By Christopher Hunt
NORTH SYRACUSE – Garden City trailed for three legs in the Division I 4x400 relay and one of the top runners in the country sitting on the anchor leg for Hempstead. Garden City’s last two legs already had races in their legs and Hempstead had built a sizeable leg.
But sophomore Michelle Rotondo found an opening. She saw with every stride she began to eat into the lead. She didn’t need to just catch Hempstead, she needed to put the race out of reach.
“I knew coming in I had to run fast,” she said. “I had to catch her quickly so I could give Emily (Menges) some room.”
And that’s what Rotondo did. She wiped out a 30-meter lead and gave Menges some cushion, which Menges stretched and Garden City won the Division I 4x400 at the New York State championship Friday in 3:49.09 at Cicero-North Syracuse, a season-best.
“I don’t really think we were expecting to run that fast,” Rotondo said.
But freshman Taylor Henning, Catherine Cafaro, Rotondo and Menges scratched out the first win in a packed meet for Rotondo and Menges. Rotondo competed in the 400 hurdles, finishing second in Division I in a personal-best 62.44. While Menges finished second in the Division I 800 meters in 2:10.84.
Menges will run in the 800 and 4x400 federation finals today as well as the 4x800 final. Rotondo will come back for 400 hurdles and 4x400 finals. Garden City robbed Hempstead of what could have been a golden afternoon. First, Velma Morant snapped out of a season slump, qualifying for today’s Division I 100 final in 11.90. Then Donna-Lee Hylton and Charlene Lipsey both won Division I sprint championships.
Hylton locked in a tight finish in the Division I 400. Hylton, Cardozo’s Chamique Francis and last year’s winner, Kia Allen of Williamsville East. Francis came off the turn with the advantage but couldn’t shake Hylton and Allen was closing. Francis held off both to finish first in 54.32 but since Cardozo, as a member of the PSAL, isn’t included in the scoring for public school races, Hylton won the championship in 54.36. Francis simply advanced to the today’s federation final and Allen finished second in 54.61, third overall.
“I’m a little disappointed,” Hylton said. “I don’t know what I did wrong. I don’t know if I didn’t get out hard enough or what. I just know I could have run faster. … I was hoping I would catch (Francis) but she just has really long strides.”
Francis, a sophomore, will be the favorite in the federation race which will be a rematch for Hylton and Allen. Francis and Hylton have both said they can run faster. Allen, a freshman, dropped a huge personal best last year to win as an eighth-grader.
“I know if I can just run get to the 300 in 38 seconds, I can run 53,” Hylton said.
Her teammate Lipsey, easily won the Division I 800 in 2:09.75. She’ll also be the favorite headed into today’s race. But Phyllis Francis of Catherine McAuley will also be in the race. Francis won the Division II title in 2:12.71 and beat Lipsey for the indoor national championship.
“Today I just wasn’t into it,” Lipsey said. “This was just to get through to tomorrow. I know we’re going to run much faster. I know that Phyllis is going to be back in there so we’ll see what happens.”
Section 8 had major success on the first day. Roslyn junior Emily Lipari won the 3,000 federation championship for the third consecutive year. Lipari followed a quick pace set by Courtney Chapman of Fayette-Manilus. Then when Chapman dropped back Rhinebeck’s Elizabeth Marvin spread out the field.
Lipari covered every change with the leader until Aisling Cuffe of Cornwall broke free on the last lap. Lipari followed and switched gears with 200 meters left to win in a season-best 9:38.66. Cuffe, a sophomore, placed second in 9:40.25 and Providence-bound Sam Roecker of Burnt-Hills Ballston Lake finished third in 9:47.54.
“I have to learn to be patient,” Lipari said. “That was my plan. I wanted to follow. When they pull, you pull. Then just be ready to make a move. I’m happy I won. But I wish it was faster. At a certain point, it isn’t enough to just win. You’re running for time. You want to know you’re improving. So I guess I’m kind of disappointed.”
Lipari has another opportunity for a fast race in today’s 1,500 meters. Westbury’s Marlene Ricketts was another Section 8 athlete that can call themselves state champion. Ricketts won the Division I triple jump in 40 feet, 0.25 inch.
“The last couple years I’ve just been so nervous and I didn’t do well,” the junior said. “I just wasn’t nervous today. I just kept myself busy. I kept warming up. “
Ricketts will face Olivia Weeks of Notre Dame, who won the Division II triple jump in 40-5.50. Weeks fouled her first two attempts and was in danger of fouling out when she mustered her winning jump.
Suffern’s Jen Clayton won the Division I long jump in 20-6.25, just 4 ½ inches off the state record of 20-10.75 shared by Keyon Soley of Uniondale in 1998 and Lynette Wigington of Mattituck in 1997. Clayton was two feet better than anyone in either division.
Wilson Tech’s Natasha Greggs won the Division I 400 hurdles in 60.58, bettering her own state-leading mark. Her time is also the seventh-fastest in the nation this season. Not bad for someone who said she barely practicing hurdling this season.
“It was terrible,” Greggs said of the race that produced her personal best. “I mess up at the end. It’s always those last three hurdles.”
Robeson will be the top seed in the federation final after winning in the Division I race in 48.22 with Charmaine Delotch, Linda Blue, Alysia Howell and Samantha Francis.
“I think have to work on the handoffs,” Howell said. “It was slow. My handoff with Linda was bad and with Samantha it could have been better. I think if we won today with those bad handoffs we should be able to win tomorrow.”