By Christopher Hunt
CALEDONIA – There is a picture of Aisling Cuffe running her first state meet as a freshman. She was in the unseeded section while Emily Lipari, a former star at Roslyn, in the background as she prepared for the faster heat.
Cornwall’s Cuffe thought about that picture before she took the track Friday and envisioned herself, on that day, as the next star in waiting. And while she watched the unseeded section of the 3,000 meters she tried to pick out who the next star would be once she is gone.
Then the Stanford-bound senior went out and made sure to make it a little harder to erase her legacy. Cuffe broke her own state record, while winning her second straight 3,000-meter federation title Friday in 9:16.32. The mark is the ninth-fastest in United States history and all Cuffe could think about was that her high school career is sprinting toward the finish.
“I was about to cry during the race,” she said. “I just kept thinking that this is the second-to-last time I’m going to wear this uniform.”
The last will be Saturday, when Cuffe takes on an all-star field in the 1,500 championship. The competition in the 3,000 wasn’t easy either. Samantha Nadel of North Shore finished second in 9:26.74, the fourth-fastest time in the country this season. Jillian Fanning of Fayetteville-Manilus was third in 9:43.20.
“I knew there would be rough parts of this race, but I really kept thinking that this is my second-to-last race in this uniform. I have to feel right. I have to look right. I had to keep my form and finish strong. I thought about where I’m going to be in New York State and then there’s nationals next week and I want to be ready for that. I know, I think too much.”
While Cuffe thought about her place in history and what her race meant for her future she also considered the present. She needed to close her career with another state title and she intended to run a personal best, that just happened to mean another state record.
“I’m glad that it happened,” she said. “My goal coming in was to run a personal best. I knew that if I stayed focused I could do that.”
It’s hard to think about the state’s future stars without considering Mamaroneck’s Anima Banks. The junior bolted in the last 300 meters on the 800 to claim her first outdoor federation title in 2:09.32. Arlington senior Hayley McMahon finished second in 2:11.27.
“I just wanted to stay with the leaders for the first lap and make my move at 300,” Banks said. “It worked out just like that.”
Banks admitted that she was as nervous as she had ever been before the race. Mostly, because the 800 had been drained of most of the top level talent, leaving Banks, the indoor 1,000-meter champ, the lone favorite. Bronxville’s Mary Cain, the state leader, opted to run the 1,500, Olicia Williams of St. Anthony’s wasn’t in the race, nor was Cardozo’s Claudia Francis, the two-time outdoor national champ.
“That’s what made me so nervous,” Banks said. “I just wanted to win this so bad. If everyone was in the race, I know I could have run a personal best. But this way I had to win.”
The only other federation championship contested was the girls pole vault. O’Neill junior Megan Clark won the event clearing 12 feet. Klarissa Ricks of Holy Names posted the best long jump performance of the day, winning the Division II state title in 18-11.25. Riverhead’s Melodee Riley won Division I in 18-9.75. The two will faceoff Saturday in the federation final.
Medgar Evers junior Sandrae Farquharson advanced to the 400 final with the fastest time, coasting to a win in her section in 54.51.
“I’ve been working on some things,” Farquharson said. “I feel good. I just have some tightness in my hamstring but I know I’ll be ready for tomorrow.”
Medgar Evers also posted the fastest time in the 4x100 (47.46) and advanced to the 4x400 final with the second-fastest time (3:53.92). Garden City won the Division I title in the 4x400 in 3:47.88, its fastest time of the season.
Elmont’s Valencia Hannon continued her torrid end-of-season comeback, winning her section of the 100-meter trials in 11.90, the fastest-time in the state this season. Ashley Fields of Amerst, last year’s champ, was also impressive in the 200 trials, running 24.46.
Jessica Gelibert of Bay Shore won her first state title by claiming the Division I 400 hurdles in 60.72. The junior admitted that she was preserving energy for Saturday’s federation final but was still surprised at how far she has come.
This time last year, Gelibert barely wanted to be on the track team. She joined the team after moving from Queens in New York City. Gelibert said she would skip practice and not take workouts or races seriously. But she started to see her own potential indoors and committed herself to the sport. The effort has made her one of the best all-around hurdlers in the state.
“I think it’s becoming more than just track,” she said. “It’s like my future.”
Her first chance to prove it will be Saturday and Gelibert said she had plenty more to give.
“They should be scared,” she said.