By Rob Centorani Staff Writer
The Daily Star
---- — Small and diverse might be the best way to describe the group of area athletes that will compete in the state track meet today and Saturday at Cicero-North Syracuse.
A mere eight local athletes qualified last week. That’s down significantly from the previous four state meets, when an average of 17.5 area athletes made it to the premier event for high school track and field performers in New York.
But those eight who made it represent two sections and seven schools. There are two throwers, two jumpers, a sprinter, a hurdler, a middle-distance runner and a pentathlete among the five girls and three boys who’ll compete.
Some have experience, such as Bainbridge-Guilford/Afton junior Julia Knapp, who’s participating in her fourth state meet, and seniors Lucy Ford of Cooperstown and Brittney Herrick of Oneonta High, who are headed to states for the third time.
Others are newcomers, including senior Mattie Seamans, the first Windham athlete to qualify for the state meet.
No matter the background, OHS boys track coach Brady Cotter probably summed things up best by saying, “There are always nerves when you get to the state meet.”
That’s true even for a defending state champion such as Ford, who cleared 5 feet, 5 inches in the high jump last June to become the first girl in Cooperstown history to win a state track title.
“She’s looking strong, but it’s awfully tough to be the defending champ,” Cooperstown coach Connie Herzig said of Ford, who placed first among Division II athletes (school enrollments of 600 or fewer) in winning her state title last season. “She’s always jumped well at the state meet.”
Downsville senior Antonio Gomes, OHS senior Mat Robinson, Sidney junior Austin Dean and Gilbertsville-Mount Upton/Morris junior Christina Hawkins also will compete this weekend.
The meet starts at 11:30 a.m. today. Competition will resume at 10 a.m. Saturday.
Admission is $8.
The following is a capsule look at each of the eight participants this weekend:
State-meet pedigree: First appearance.
When he competes: 2 p.m. today (Division II); 2:30 p.m. Saturday (Federation final, top eight overall finishers).
How he got here: Dean finished second overall and second in D-II to Lansing’s Anders Presthus in the Section Four State Qualifier last Thursday at Binghamton Alumni Stadium. He qualified by exceeding the state standard. His best mark last week was 146-3.
Seed: Dean is tied for eighth in D-II at 147-8, a distance he threw in the Yellowjacket Invitational at OHS in early May. Phil Zobrest of Alden is the top seed at 161-4. Presthus is seeded sixth at 150-8.
Etc.: It’s been a standout academic year for Dean, a First Team all-state selection as a defensive lineman in football, a Section Four D-II championship at 285 pounds in wrestling and a qualifier for the state meet in track.
“You don’t get that very often,” Sidney track coach Paul Sims said of Dean’s junior year. “He’s definitely a top-five-percent caliber of athlete. He works hard at it and he’s always in the weight room.”
Sims added that it’s not uncommon for discus athletes to set a personal record by 5 to 10 feet.
“He’s been very consistent all year long,” Sims said. “He’s been right around that 140-foot range, but I definitely feel like he could pop one. There’s so much going on in that event with the spin, but if he puts everything together, 147 could become 157.”
Event: High jump.
State-meet pedigree: Ford cleared 4-10 to place fifth among D-II athletes as a sophomore and won the D-II state title last season by clearing 5-5.
When she competes: 10 a.m. Saturday.
How she got here: Ford placed first among D-II athletes in the Section Three State Qualifier last Thursday at Cicero-North Syracuse. She cleared 5-0.
Seed: Ford is tied for seventh overall at 5-4 (a height she cleared at the Eddy Meet in Schenectady two weeks ago) and tied for third among D-II competitors. The top three seeds have all cleared 5-7, including D-II jumpers Hailey Rospierski of Alden and Olivia Mooney of Cambridge.
Etc.: Herzig said because Ford’s been asked to do so many other events for Cooperstown this spring, she hasn’t had a chance to focus on high jumping.
“We’re feeling pretty good about where she is,” Herzig said. “We’re certainly going in with high hopes and high expectations. We’ll see how it goes. First, you have to get there and then you have to perform. In the past, she’s been good at that. I don’t want to jinx anything, but I feel good about her and where she is.”
Ford is much healthier heading into the state meet this season. Last year, she dealt with an ankle injury that forced her miss two weeks late in the season.
“She’s a lot healthier and we’re feeling good about that,” Herzig said.
Next year: Ford will compete at Brockport State.
Event: 200 meters.
State-meet pedigree: Gomes placed fourth in the state in the 200 meters last season, running his personal-best time of 22.59 seconds.
When he competes: 3:30 p.m. today (D-II preliminaries); 12:25 p.m. Saturday (Division II finals, top eight qualify); 2:10 p.m. Saturday (Federation final, top eight overall times from D-I and D-II).
How he got here: Gomes finished second overall and first among D-II athletes in the Section Four State Qualifier last Thursday at Binghamton Alumni Stadium. He crossed in 22.89.
Seed: Fifth in D-II, with a time of 22.34 — that number converted from a 22.1 hand-held clocking Gomes ran in the Tri-Valley League championships three weeks ago. The top seed is Raymond Jones of Roosevelt at 22.04. Matt McCoy of Vernon-Verona-Sherrill (22.17), Charles Tankeh of Stony Brook (22.18) and Darian Blanks of Hudson (22.29) also are seeded ahead of Gomes.
Etc.: Downsville coach Tim McNamara said he thinks Gomes could run something really low this weekend.
“He’s capable of running 22-flat, FAT time,” McNamara said. “You’ll know toward the last 25 meters if he tightens up. If he stays loose, that’s when he’ll get a 22-flat, because he’s an amazing finisher.”
One of the better sprinters this area has produced, Gomes has concentrated on working on his start and running the curve better this week, McNamara said.
“I think he’s still nervous, because the goals are much higher than last year,” McNamara said. “This year, the expectation is to get in the top three and I think that had him focused on training more this year.”
McNamara said Gomes skipped his prom to go to the Eddy Meet two weeks ago.
Next year: Gomes will run for SUNY Delhi.
State-meet pedigree: Hawkins placed sixth in the discus among D-II athletes as a freshman two years ago at states.
When she competes: 5 p.m. today (D-II); 1:15 p.m. Saturday (Federation final).
How she got here: Hawkins placed second overall and second in D-II to Norwich’s Brooke Bonney in the Section Four State Qualifier with a school-record throw of 116-1. Bonney’s best throw went 117-8. Hawkins qualified by exceeding the state standard.
Seed: Hawkins is eighth in D-II at 116-1. The top seed is Cheektowaga’s Stephanie Lombardo at 141-2. Bonney is third at 129-5.
Etc.: G-MU/M coach Michael D’Amico said he had a feeling Hawkins would perform well last week after she had six throws between 113 and 104 feet during the Section Four Class D meet two weeks ago.
“It’s the most consistent I’ve ever seen her throw,” D’Amico said. “She had that confidence. I knew she would do well at the state qualifier.”
Hawkins led the competition until Bonney surpassed her on her final attempt.
D’Amico said he’d like to see Hawkins place in the top six and break the Tri-Valley League record, which stands at 118 feet and change.
“She’s peaking at the right time,” he said. “She’s a hard-working kid and she really enjoys throwing, but the discus is a finicky event. You can throw really well one day and another day, you don’t have it. You never know what’s going to happen, so we’re just doing all the work we can to prepare.”
Event: High jump.
State-meet pedigree: Herrick cleared 4-11 to place 16th as a sophomore and made it over the same height last season, when she placed 12th.
When she competes: 10 a.m. Saturday.
How she got here: Herrick cleared 5-0 to place third — second among D-II competitors — in the Section Four State Qualifier last week. The state standard is 5-0, so Herrick needed to finish in the top three to qualify.
Seed: Herrick is tied for 21st overall and tied for seventh in D-II. Her seed mark is 5-2, a height she cleared earlier this season.
Etc.: She’s among the top three-sport athletes in the area. Herrick helped OHS to its first sectional title in volleyball during the fall season, then started for the Yellowjackets basketball team, which won its seventh straight sectional title this past winter.
She cleared her personal-best of 5-4 in the 2013 Don Howard Invitational at Cooperstown.
“She looked good over 5 feet and over 5-2, and I’ve seen jumps that could have easily been 5-4,” OHS girls coach Dan Forbes said of Herrick. “We’d like to see her PR at states. I’d like to see her get 5-2 and maybe over 5-4, and we’re hoping that’ll be good enough to place.
“She looked pretty good Thursday,” he continued, “but it’s definitely a finicky event.”
Forbes said Herrick’s experience at the state meet should be beneficial.
“She knows what to expect and she knows the routine,” Forbes said. “That will work in her favor. She knows to focus on herself and the height she wants to clear.”
Next year: Herrick will play volleyball at Division I Siena.
State-meet pedigree: Knapp placed sixth in the 400 hurdles as an eighth-grader; she placed third in the 100 hurdles, sixth in the 400 hurdles and 17th in the long jump as a freshman; and she placed fifth in the 100 hurdles last season.
When she competes: The pentathlon high jump starts at 1:10 p.m. today, the 100 hurdles are at 2:10 p.m. today, the shot put is 3:15 p.m. today, the long jump is 10 a.m. Saturday, and the 800 is 12:45 p.m. Saturday.
How she got here: Knapp was the overall champion in the pentathlon in last Thursday’s Section Four State Qualifier. She totaled 2,948 points — more than 300 points ahead of the second-place finisher.
Seed: Knapp’s 10th overall and fifth among D-II competitors. The top three seeds are D-II athletes — Randolph’s McKenna Mayock (3,345), APW’s Kylee Bartlett (3,137) and Spence School’s Frances Lodge (2,998).
Etc.: En route to her victory last Thursday, Knapp ran her season-best time of 15.24 in the 100 hurdles. She also high jumped 4-11.75; long jumped 15-5.75; and ran a 2:31.4 in the 800. The only event she struggled with was the shot put, finishing with a distance of 22-8.
“She’s been working on it the past two weeks,” B-G/A coach Steve Pelosi of the shot put. “If she can get it out around 25 or 26 feet, that would be a great improvement.”
Pelosi said he left the decision on whether to compete in the pentathlon up to Knapp. Her time in the 100 hurdles last week would have won that event in the state qualifier by nearly a second.
“(The pentathlon has) always been on the back burner,” said Pelosi, who added that the pentathlon suits Knapp because she’s such a well-rounded athlete. “She’s right there and if she hits everything right like we know she can, it’s very promising.”
Event: 400 hurdles.
State-meet pedigree: First appearance.
When he competes: 3:50 p.m. today (D-II finals); 2 p.m. Saturday (Federation final, top eight overall qualify).
How he got here: Robinson finished second overall and first among D-II athletes in the Section Four State Qualifer last week, running a personal-best 57.79.
Seed: Robinson’s 10th in D-II. The top seed is Batavia’s Alex Egeli at 54.87.
Etc.: Cotter said it took some coaxing to get Robinson to run the hurdles.
“He didn’t want to do it to begin with,” Cotter said. “It’s a great race to be able to get to the state meet and he’s really improved this year. Now, he’s enjoying it.”
Over the last two weeks, he’s dropped his personal-best 1.5 seconds, taking nearly a second off his PR last week.
“He still has quite a bit of room to improve,” Cotter said. “His hurdle form is not anywhere near perfect. The first part of his race is a little slower. I’d like to see him get out faster. He needs to attack the first 100 with a little more aggressiveness.”
If Robinson can drop another second this week, he’d stand a good shot at placing in the top six in D-II.
“That would be a spectacular meet,” Cotter said if Robinson places. “His goal is to run a PR. Wherever that lands him will be great.”
Next year: Robinson will compete at SUNY Delhi.
State-meet pedigree: First appearance.
When she competes: 3 p.m. today (D-II final).
How she got here: Seamans placed second overall and first among D-II competitors in the Section Four State Qualifer, running a personal-best 2:19.18.
Seed: Seamans is 26th overall and 14th in D-II. The top seed in D-II is Hamilton’s Sage Hurta at 2:11.61.
Etc.: Windham’s track program is 3 years old and Seamans is the first from her school to make it to the state meet.
She had to pass two runners down the final straightaway to qualify last week.
“Probably her biggest strength is speed coming down the home stretch,” Windham coach Jesse Berube said of Seamans. “Speed is her strong suit and that’s what she likes to use.”
Berube said getting under 2:20 was Seamans’ goal this season.
“She was super-ecstatic,” Berube said of Seamans’ reaction to her time last week. “She’s so excited. It’s a big accomplishment to get out of the section.”
She’s dropped 4 1/2 seconds off her best time from last season.
“We’re hoping to get as close to 2:15 as we can, but we’re not putting any time on it,” he said. “We just want her to race and have fun.”
Next year: Seamans will run at Hamilton College.
Rob Centorani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-432-1000, ext. 209.