Eddie Arnold calls it his “dream team.”
The Southampton girls track and field squad is poised to have one of its best seasons in recent memory, and potentially the best in the 12-year tenure of Arnold, the head coach. In recent years, the Lady Mariners have made a name for themselves as a program that typically sends maybe one talented relay team or individual athlete deep into the postseason, but, this year, Arnold said his team is formidable from top to bottom.
Arnold essentially has what every coach hopes for—a strong contingent of veterans, senior leadership, talented newcomers and enough depth to foster a healthy environment of competitiveness within the team. He also pointed out that most of the best female athletes in the school are on the team, including All-County field hockey players and an All-County basketball player.
“We have all the events covered,” Arnold said. “It’s the strongest team I’ve had in 12 years. The list is endless as far as talent-wise. It’s my job to facilitate everyone’s specialties and get them to the next level.”
Relays have been Southampton’s calling card in recent years, and that won’t change this season. The Lady Mariners will be looking to win their ninth straight Suffolk County Small Schools Championship in the 4×100-meter relay, and the team will also field very competitive 4×400 and 4×800 teams.
Sasha Lewin, who anchored the championship 4×100 team last year, has graduated, but Arnold said he has about four athletes who are more than capable of filling her spot. Seniors Emily Wesnofske, Jessa Laspesa, Carley Guida and junior Meggie Gallo have been standouts on the shorter distance relay squads for a long time. Guida, who started on the Long Island and Suffolk County Class B Championship basketball teams the past two years, is poised for a great season after missing all of last year with an injury. She was the Small Schools county champion in the 400-meter race as a sophomore.
Isabella Franz, also a senior, is versatile enough to compete on any relay, and is coming off a great winter season where she was the overall county champion in the 600-meter race. Senior Paris Hodges, an All-County basketball player who is playing hoops at Brandeis University next year, could figure into the relays as well, while Arnold is also excited about newcomer Brooklyn Walker, a freshman.
Any number of the aforementioned girls could also compete on the 4×400 team, while sophomore Hannah Connolly-Sporing could also join that squad.
Southampton has been known for its sprinting prowess in recent years, but the distance corps is coming along as well. Franz should shine in distance events, along with sophomore Michele Abantangelo, eighth-grader LuMei Abatangelo, Connolly-Sporing and senior Rienna Russo.
Southampton possesses one of the top track athletes in the county in junior Erika Gulija, who has been a member of the program on a year-round basis since she was in seventh grade. She also competes on the cross country and indoor track teams. Arnold calls Gulija “Ms. Track and Field,” and says she is by far his most versatile athlete.
“She has the longest resume as far as doing multiple events,” Arnold said.
He added that, this year, Gulija will focus specifically on the 400-meter hurdles and defending her back-to-back Small Schools county titles in the pentathlon, which includes the 100-meter hurdles, shot put, high jump, long jump and 800- meter race. Sophomore Kit Ramgopal is another versatile athlete who Arnold said can earn points for the team in a variety of events.
Senior Paulina Kepcynzska will add versatility as well and should shine in field events, such as the high jump, triple jump and long jump. She also has talent as a sprinter. Gallo, Gulija, Laspesa and junior Sydney Katz should also do well in the jumping events.
Patti Sanchez, a junior, is making the transition from the racewalk to distance running but could also work out in other events. Freshman Valentina Cobler will take over in the racewalk. Hannah Stein, a talented gymnast, will try to earn points for Southampton in the pole vault.
Arnold is hoping that a few other athletes may decide to try their hand at the shot put and discus, although he said Wesnofske and Gallo could compete in those events. He said the pair, both standouts on the field hockey team, have the athleticism to do well in any event.
Wesnofske, Gulija and Kepcynzska will be the captains of this year’s team.
Arnold does not mask his enthusiasm when asked what he thinks his team can accomplish this year.
“It’s the first time we have the opportunity to compete with Mount Sinai, Shoreham and Bayport,” he said, referring to the powerhouse programs. “I’ve never beaten them. This is the first year I have a chance to beat them.”
Southampton will begin that quest on Thursday, March 21, at Mount Sinai at 4:30 p.m.
Boys Have Youth, Talent
Mariners boys head coach Tony Dottin describes his team as “extremely young,” but said he still has high expectations this year. Like Arnold, Dottin has more depth than he’s had in the past, with strong competitors in sprints, distance and field events.
Junior captain Kevin McCabe will lead a strong group of distance runners, which will also include eighth-grader Spencer Crough, who, according to Dottin, had the fastest time in the state in the indoor 600-meter race this winter (1:34.05). Sebastian Hunter-Cuyjet, a freshman, and eighth-grader Ryan McCabe, along with junior Timmy Squires, will also be strong is distance events and should give Southampton a formidable 4×800-meter relay team.
Junior captain Keaton Laub and sophomore Joe Strassfield will be the top sprinters for Southampton, and Dottin said Strassfield is “a favorite” to win the Small Schools title in both the 100- and 200-meter races. Eighth-grader Andre Franklin and freshman Jesse Scanlon should also shine in sprints and make a strong 4×100 team. Scanlon will also be strong in the jumps and hurdles. Freshman Matt Wooley is another strong sprinter and hurdler, while eighth-grader Timmy Alejo is also expected to do well in the jumping events.
Freshman Billy Cook, sophomore Peter Strassfield—a Division II county wrestling champion in the 285-pound weight class—and senior Devon Coffey will lead the Mariners in the shot put and discus. Coffey is the only senior on the team.
Dottin expects Bayport/Blue Point to be very strong this year, but said his team should “have a good match” with all the other schools it faces.
The Mariners will kick off the season at home against Mount Sinai on Thursday, March 21, at 4 p.m.