Eastport South Manor sophomore Taylor McClay, and her fellow competitors, had to navigate some treacherous conditions at the New York State Cross Country Championships, held Saturday at SUNY at Canton.
McClay, though, did not let the muddy course derail her as she went on to finish 39th out of 108 runners in the Class A race, crossing the finish line in 19:22.1.
For her efforts, McClay will go down in the history books as the first Lady Shark to ever compete in the New York State Federation Championships, a prestigious, invitation-only race that features the best runners from all public, private, Catholic and New York City schools.
After it was merged with all other times recorded by the 435 runners who competed last weekend across four different classes, McClay’s finish time was good enough for 65th in the entire state. Based on that performance, McClay was invited for the second year in a row to enter the Federation race that will be held at Bowdoin County Park in Wappingers Falls, New York, this Saturday, November 15.
ESM girls cross country head coach Brian Methven explained that he held McClay out of last year’s Federation race because he thought she was a little too young and inexperienced to enter a competition of that magnitude.
With another year of experience, however, he feels that she’s ready to give it a go.
“Last year she was new at everything, and I felt like it was a good time for her to stop in terms of race preparation,” Methven said. “I feel like now, with the experience she has, it’ll be a great opportunity for her.”
As it always does, last weekend’s state championship race got off to a quick start, so it was crucial for McClay to get herself into a solid position. The muddy course conditions made that difficult and, eventually, McClay found herself boxed in and struggling to find a way to maneuver herself to start tracking down the leader of the pack.
“Usually, when you get boxed in, you find a way out, but since a lot of girls upstate are running at the same speed, I got caught in the middle of the pack and there was really no way out of that,” McClay said. “It put me in a not-so-great spot in the beginning of the race.
“I didn’t really enjoy the muddy part,” McClay added. “You really had to pick up your knees; otherwise, the mud really tried to swallow you.”
McClay finished last year’s state race, her first appearance in that competition, in 18:36, which placed her 24th in Class A. That was on a different course though, at Queensbury High School.
“With a whole new mix of girls and a different course, I think she did very comparable to what she did last year,” Methven said.
“Overall, most of the times in my race were a little bit slow,” McClay added. “I would have liked to do a little bit better, but the conditions were a little rough.”
McClay said she’s excited to compete in one more race this season.
“I think I’m going to enjoy racing in it,” she said of the Federation race. “I’m kind of excited to do it now. It’ll be a good experience.”
By the time the Class C boys race started, the course at SUNY at Canton was in the worst shape of the day. The muddy conditions only grew worse in time for the final event of the competition, making things extra difficult for Hampton Bays senior Nick Berglin, who went on to finish 51st out of 132 runners in 17:36.5, in what was his third appearance upstate.
Berglin was trailing Southampton’s Sebastian Hunter for the first half of the race until he was able to pass him on the final hill. Hunter made a last-ditch effort down the home stretch, but Berglin was able to hold him off by one-tenth of a second.
“I think since it was the last race of the day, the course deteriorated so much and it became so muddy that it really slowed people’s times,” Berglin said. “I was a little disappointed, but I definitely think I ran a good race.”
Hampton Bays boys cross country head coach Fran Arato said Berglin has set the standard for future runners at the school.
“He had a great career,” he said. “He was truly, for me, in the eight years I’ve [coached] now, one of the most true runners that I’ve had. He’s been on varsity since seventh grade and he was really committed to running.”
While he plans to run cross country at SUNY at Oneonta next year, Berglin said he would like to first advance to the states in spring track, where he competes in the 3,200-meter race. He has never made it to states as a member of the track team.
“It was great,” Berglin said of his six years competing on the cross country team. “My goal since seventh grade was to make the state meet and I made it there three years in a row, which is incredible.”
Nick’s twin brother, Christian, did not make it to the states. Still, that did not stop him from competing back home. Christian won the inaugural Manorville Hills Trail 15K on Saturday morning, crossing the finish line in 1:05.35, about six minutes ahead of the second-place finisher.