By Christopher Hunt
It was Texas University assistant coach John Hayes who told Marcellus senior Mike Querica that he was going to be a half-miler.
Querica moved up in distance almost every year since he started running as a freshman and with increased distance came increased success including Quercia's win at the New York State Division II championships in the 400 meters last spring. He moved to the 600 indoors and broke the Section 3 record twice (1:19.37).
Last Saturday, Quercia won the 800 meters at the prestigious Arcadia Invitational in Arcadia, Calif. He finished in 1:51.81, the fastest time in the state this season and the third-fastest in the country.
“We actually think that the 800 is going to be my strongest event going forward,” Quercia said. “I felt great during the 800 plus I really think it’s going to translate well into my 400s.”
He already has a couple things going for him. He’s got the co-sign from Hayes, which was enough for Quercia to choose Texas over Georgetown and Virginia. Hayes’ approval is a major sign especially since Hayes, a New Jersey native, recruited Quercia on his potential to be an 800-runner and because Hayes has mentored and coached Olympian Lopez Lomong, a Tully grad who made the World Championships semifinal in the 1500 in Berlin. Also, the rookie half-miler earned all-American status in his first 800 of the indoor season, scoring fifth at the Nike Indoor Nationals last month.
And he’s not afraid.
The pack pushed Quercia to last place for the first 200 meters of his race at Arcadia Saturday. He didn’t panic. He worked himself into the led back and was in striking distance with 200 left. Then with 150 left he dusted the field.
“I don’t know for sure but I was pretty sure that I had the best speed in the field so I was confident that I could make the move,” he said.
The fact that Quercia hasn’t shown any resistance to moving up in distance is one of the reasons for his rapid transition, which speaks to his maturity. He illustrated that quality by traveling to and from California and the competition all alone -- no coach, no parents.
“He’s very, very mature,” Marcellus coach Heidi Busa said. “He’s very focused. He knows what he wants to do and how he’s going to do it. When he told me he was going out there by himself I was just like, ‘OK,’ because I’m a mom so I can understand the worry. But he is fine. I can’t be more pleased with him.”
Quercia has made no bones about the fact that he will concentrate on the 800 this season and with only one race under his belt, he’s one of the top half-milers in the country. He’s already got the mindset for it.
“The 800 still a sprint, at least now it is,” Quercia said. “It’s just a really long sprint and I still think of myself as a sprinter.”
While Quercia showcased himself in his new event, the CHSAA’s St. Joseph’s by the Sea made a statement in an event where it’s already built a name. Alex Civitano (2:00.9), Nick Italiano (1:55.9), Adam Civitano (1:57.4) and Danny Zaccariello (photo by Andrew McClanahan)
won the invitational 4x800 Friday at Arcadia in 7:49.15, the fourth-best time in the country and fastest in New York State.
“The guys were phenomenal,” Sea coach Chris Mancusi said. “We went out there with an objective of winning. It was really a reward for the seniors but the guys ran out the box. The thing is I think we can run much better.”
Italiano provided a boost on the second leg, chasing down five runners to bring the team from eighth to third. Then Adam Civitano pulled the team in the lead and rewarded Zaccariello with a solo run on the anchor. Mancusi said he knows he can squeeze a few seconds out of Zaccariello and Alex Civitano, which further makes his team a threat next week when they run the 4x800 at Penn Relays.
“Knowing that the guys have so much left in their legs, we’re really hyped for Penn,” Mancusi said.
“Winning Acardia was a big confidence booster,” Italiano said. Just being recognized out there as a relay powerhouse was great. I know for me personally it give me a ton of confidence going forward just to know that we can run out there with anyone.”
Italiano, one of the two seniors on the team along side Zacceriello, set the tone on the second leg. But that’s been his job all year. He has been responsible for chasing the leaders, making sure that Adam and Zaccareillo are in striking distance. The broke Staten Island records in the 4x800 and sprint medley indoors. Even after Arcadia they are looking for more.
“We like being in the back, it’s the chase,” Adam Civitano said. “We’ve been making predictions before the 4x800. We had ourselves in the 7:45 range but it definitely wasn’t a disappointment. We wanted to win.”
Reach Christopher Hunt at email@example.com.