No. 7 - A Tale With Two Stories
State Meets can provide moments of triumph, moments of defeat, and moments of reflection. For the select few teams with multiple qualifiers, it could be all of the above. The Admirals of Arlington were set to attack the State Meet on very different fronts. Bella Burda, a senior, was looking to rebound after a loss at the State Qualifier in the 3000m. Her endurance over the longer distances was well noted in the All-Time Lists of XC and Track. On the other end, Jimmy Asselmeyer brought the middle distance speed needed to tackle the 800m and the 1000m. Their two experiences combined, make for Moment No. 7.
Flashback to the Summer of 2012. MileSplit NY had traveled to the home of Arlington Coach Steve Arnett, to interview a boys XC Team headlined by Sibby Hanson, in anticipation of a strong fall. As we walked up the stairs, the front door opened behind, and in walked in a very quiet, still freshman XC runner, to which Arnett advised, "You might want to keep an eye out for this one. She may not say much, but I have a feeling she could be very good." We made a mental note of the comment, briefly mentioning as such in the final writeup. At the time, the young athlete had run 10:20 for 3000m on the track, with a 1500m equivalent. The times wouldn't jump out, especially in a year that saw marks from names like Mary Cain and Sam Nadel. Certainly, it wasn't a clear indication of what was to come.
Less than a month later, that young athlete named Bella Burda was blowing away course records at Big Red in the opening weekend. She immediately became a factor at the state level, taking second at the Queensbury and McQuaid Invites, and winning at Burnt Hills. She would take second in XC that year, to a resilient Megan Reilly, but blow away the field at Feds the next weekend, in what was the 8th fastest time ever, at the time. After a trip to NXN, Burda continued to power away on the track, indoors and out. Her first state title would come that winter, over 3000m, while her 9:33 winning mark would put her NY #5 All-Time for the event. The titles kept rolling her way through spring. But success at that level is hard to maintain. Something was about to happen.
Any Girls' Coach can tell you. Growth spurts in female athletes can be game changers. That next fall, Burda had sprouted a few inches. With the extra height, as the bones expanded, came injury. At the Queensbury Pre-State Meet, Burda came through in 25th. Recovering, she returned home to Section 1, picking up Invitational wins, and regional championships along the way. On the track, Burda was still ahead of the competition, but struggled to get back down to the 9:30 range from the year prior. She took second at both Indoor and Outdoor States that year, to the new freshman Jessica Lawson. By the end of spring, she was returning to form, hitting 4:36 for the 1500m. But it was clear, she was eager to be back on top.
The summer of 2015 came sans injury, and when XC started up, it was clear Burda was back. She dominated the sport of XC, undefeated until NXN. On the track Indoors, she would be undefeated once again over 3000m. Outdoors, she dropped her times considerably, once again breaking 9:40 for the 3000m. Entered into the 3000m, Burda took the pace hard at the halfway mark to run away from the field. She had accomplished something which many had never before. She was able to come back, and sweep State Titles in XC, Indoors, and Outdoors. Burda's contribution to Moment No. 7 came in her final interview, where she acknowledged what it means to be able to hold off some of that younger talent, as a more seasoned runner, who has experienced the ups and downs of the sport. It is an accomplishment in itself to have that kind of staying power, but Burda's was only half the story for Arlington that day.
Jimmy Asselmeyer demonstrated the difference in the development in regards to coaching girls and boys. A modest runner through his first two years, Asselmeyer broke out his junior year. Paired against in-section rival Liam Purdy of North Rockland, the duo would battle indoors over 1000m. Outdoors, it was all Asselmeyer, as he dropped his 800m marks within the 1:52 range, while also providing quality legs on the relay. After a 6th place at Outdoor States, Asselmeyer would return fitter and faster that next winter. He broke out early as one of the Nation's best over 1000m. He would throw down a huge personal best to win a Sectional Title, and then come back and improve upon it, hitting NY #4 All-Time. He would continue onto the State Meet, for both the 4x800m, and the 1000m, with a gold medal in the latter. At New Balance Nationals, he shocked the crowd with a sub-1:50 split in the 4x800m, and the spring season still laid ahead.
For Arlington, the 4x800m holds a special place. In 2015, they were top ranked in the state, consistently battling with Shenendehowa. Outdoors would be much the same, as the two teams improved with each other. The Outdoor State Meet would be a battle, to see who could break 7:40 first. But all was not well in the Arlington camp. Asselmeyer had contracted a cold, one that would hamper his own abilities. However, dedicated to the team, he pushed through, first through the open 800m, where he would take 6th, and then to the line with his relay. He wasn't about to give up on his team. When he received the baton, Asselmeyer had to make up an increasing gap through the lead. Powering away, he made up the difference, shoulder to shoulder down the finishing stretch. It was in the final meters where the exhaustion of a 1:49 split combined with the illness, and Asselmeyer would collapse across the line. The fall would dislodge the baton before the line, and crack his collarbone.
Moment No. 7 is about athletes giving everything to their team, and the sport giving it back. While it may not have yielded the most medals, or the fastest times, the experience of competition makes the moment worth remembering.