Defending a championship is not an easy feat. Doing it nine times in a row is almost impossible.
But not for the Southampton girls 4×100-meter relay team.
Sophomore Meggie Gallo and seniors Jessa Laspesa, Carley Guida and Paris Hodges kept the streak alive at the Suffolk County track and field meet at Port Jefferson High School on Friday, a state qualifier, winning the Small Schools county title in the 4×100 for Southampton for the ninth year in a row. The quartet finished the race in 50.44 seconds, the best time of the season for Southampton, beating out Small Schools rival Bayport/Blue Point, a team that had gotten the better of them all season long.
If ever there was a year when the streak was in jeopardy, this was it. Bayport beat the Lady Mariners on three occasions coming into the meet, most recently at the Division IV Championships on May 20 and 22. Also, head coach Eddie Arnold was forced to tinker with the lineup, particularly at the tail end of the season, when captain Emily Wesnofske went down with an injury at the end of April. Wesnofske was the glue who held the relay team together, according to Arnold, and she was responsible for two handoffs as the second leg. Arnold also lost relay member Carley Guida for the division meet, as she was dealing with a foot injury.
But at the state qualifier, Guida said she was feeling well enough to run, and even gave up her spot in the 400-meter race, where she is Southampton’s school record-holder and had won the county’s Small Schools title as a sophomore, in order to save her energy for the relay.
Guida ran the leadoff leg in the relay, handing off the baton to sophomore Meggie Gallo, who had been the leadoff runner before Wesnofske’s injury. Gallo passed the baton to Laspesa, who handed it to Hodges—who emerged as a key runner for Southampton in what was only her first season in the track and field program—for the anchor leg.
Despite the fact that they were running together as a unit for the first time this season, Guida, Gallo, Laspesa and Hodges came up with the best performance when it mattered most, not only beating Bayport by a wide margin but also finishing second in their heat to claim a spot in the overall county final on Saturday, which included both large and small schools.
Three heats of the 4×100 were contested on Friday, and the top two teams in each, as well as the next two fastest teams overall, advanced to the eight-team final. With their spot in the New York State Championships already secured, the Lady Mariners finished seventh overall in the county on Saturday, in 51.29.
The girls all agreed that there was more than enough adversity to overcome this season, and that losing previously to Bayport didn’t make it any easier.
“It was definitely discouraging knowing we were seeded below them,” Gallo said. “But I knew if we worked hard, we’d come out on top.
“It definitely motivated us and made us work harder,” she added, referring to being seeded below Bayport.
Laspesa said that having to hand off to different teammates than they were accustomed to was “definitely nerve-wracking,” but said she and her teammates simply put all their focus into making sure the handoffs were perfect. Guida, meanwhile, said that her foot was still sore, but that she “just pushed through it.”
Hodges, who will be playing basketball in college next year, said she never expected she’d be such a key member on the relay team. “I didn’t think I’d be part of it, but I knew they’d go to states because they’re so good,” she said. “It’s an honor for me, because I never expected to be good at track.”
Arnold was most ecstatic about his team’s performance on Friday, however, which clinched what will be the ninth trip in a row to states. The streak started in 2005, when the current members of the team still hadn’t reached their 9th birthdays. At that time, Gallo was only 6 years old.
The relay team will be joined at states by Southampton senior Isabella Franz, who finished second among Small Schools runners in the 800-meter race in 2:18.19. She had officially clinched her spot at states on May 11 at the Loucks Games, when she met the state qualifying standard time of 2:16.
To qualify for states, runners must either win their event within their respective division (large or small schools) or meet the qualifying standard in that event. Franz has had an impressive year—she also went to states in cross country and winter track. Additionally, Hodges will compete in the high jump, getting a chance after Port Jefferson’s Kirsten Crovello gave up her spot at states because of ACT testing.
Over the years that Arnold has built a 4×100-meter dynasty at Southampton, he has repeated the same mantra when asked about the catalyst for success. “The key is the handoffs,” he said. “That’s been our forte for so many years, getting the stick around smooth.”
Arnold said the team is aiming to finish in the top six at the state meet, which will begin on June 7 at Middletown High School. The relay team will earn All-State status if it can finish in the top six at states in Division II (Small Schools). Since the county title streak began in 2005, the team has failed to finish in the top six at states only twice, in 2009 and 2011. The school record time of 49.58 was set in 2007 by Jena Arnister, Imani Richardson, Anyse Bonner and Jackie Rodriguez.
Arnold said he has been impressed with his current group’s ability to come together quickly and get the job done.
“They created a great chemistry in a quick amount of time,” Arnold said. “I was amazed. They did exactly what I wanted them to do. It was flawless.”
While the 4×100 team and Franz were the highlights of the meet for Southampton, other individuals had strong showings. Hannah Connolly-Sporing just missed out on a spot at states in the 400-meter race, but had a personal-best time of 62.60 seconds, finishing 19th overall in the county. Erika Gulija, a junior, finished 11th overall in the county in the pentathlon but failed to make a return trip to states, as she did not finish first among Small Schools competitors.
While none of the members of the Southampton boys track team made it to states, the team finished the season on a positive note at the state qualifier, and with only one senior, Ricky Brumsey, graduating, the squad has a bright future.
Freshman Jesse Scanlon had a personal-best mark of 41 feet 3 inches in the triple jump, finishing third among Small Schools competitors. He was also fourth among Small Schools competitors in the 110-meter hurdles, in 16.71 seconds.
Joseph Strassfield, who missed a large chunk of the season toward the end with an injury, finished fourth in Small School in the 100-meter dash, in 11.67 seconds, and was fifth in Small Schools in the 200, in 23.54 seconds.
Keaton Laub finished third in Small Schools in the 400, in 53.08 seconds.