The Kingston High indoor track and field team is off to a solid start to the season, though as with any year in any high school sport there have been growing pains. These might been compounded by the fact that Head Coach Joe Cahill is running the show on his own if not for the leadership of some of the team’s veteran athletes.
“Things are going well so far, but we only have one coach this year, which is definitely a challenge and not a normalcy for us,” said Cahill following the team’s trip last week to Staten Island for the second annual Ocean Breeze Holiday Festival. “We usually have two or three coaches for the indoor season. We’ve had people with conflicts and scheduling problems.”
Instead, Cahill is relying on a bit of coaching by committee, including boys’ captains Jayson Hines, Lucas Lopez, Johnny Loughlin, and Josh Yovella, and girls’ captains Samantha Shaw and Autumn Spyhalsky.
“We have three guys returning on the boys’ side that were state and national qualifiers last year in outdoor track, state and national qualifiers for indoor, and we have two girls that were state qualifiers, and one of them was also a national qualifier in the spring,” Cahill said. “We do have that veteran leadership that comes from performance, but they also lead by example in practices and they help out a lot at Dietz. They’re kind of like my assistant coaches. I told most of my captains I’d be leaning on them this year and to expect a little extra pressure from me, but don’t take it personally or the wrong way. I might just become a little overwhelmed at times and things have to get done. And every single one of them has been with me on this. They know the expectations that I want from them.”
Expectations were tempered at the Ocean Breeze Holiday Festival, held on Friday, Dec. 30 in a state-of-the-art 135,000-square-foot track and field facility in Staten Island. Opened in November 2015 through the city’s PlaNYC initiative, the Ocean Breeze Athletic Complex has lost none of its new-car smell, and with over 3,800 athletes from 183 schools participating in the second annual event, the tournament has grown by over 300 percent in just its second year.
The Tigers medaled in three events, with Shaw’s five-foot, seventh-place varsity high jump the school’s lone individual medal. The sophomore girls’ 3,200 relay team of Madisyn Beisswenger, Vanessa Hill, Maggie Noe and Carly Haines placed sixth with a time of 11:05.02; while the boys’ varsity distance medley relay team of Hines, Robert Becker, Lopez and Ben Osborn took fifth.
With so many schools participating it can be difficult to stand out in the crowd; Kingston won the boys’ varsity distance medley relay at the first Ocean Breeze Holiday Festival a year ago and they beat that 10:55.08 time by six seconds this year; but they were still beaten by Tottenville and three other teams during this year’s tournament. There was, Cahill admitted, a bit of overall holiday sluggishness.
“The results weren’t what we were expecting, and some of our athletes felt that way too,” Cahill said. “We had some individual performances that were really great. But over the holidays, though, it’s tough. We’re not practicing every single day, kids are traveling, and it’s tough to be hard on the kids about practicing over the holidays. I get it. I’m happy to be back in school, because now we’re going to get back into a routine. It’s what makes us better and makes them better.”
Even with a disappointing visit to Staten Island, Cahill said the 2016-17 Tigers are looking good up and down the roster.
“We have a nice mixture of youth and veterans, and we’re seeing contributions on both ends, which is nice too,” he said. “Some of the eighth-graders and freshmen, more on the girls’ side, are contributing to some of the successes we’re having so far. We do have quite a few state qualifiers, county champions and sectional placers from last year returning, which is great for us and great for the younger kids to see because it motivates them.”
The Tigers competed in the relatively smaller Tim St. Lawrence Invitational at the New York City Armory 10 days earlier, with Becker placing first in the 1,000-meter run with a time of 2:36.09, and following that by running the anchor leg on the team’s gold medal in the 3,200 relay with Lucas Lopez, Andy Lopez and Hines for a combined time of 8:23.85. Yovella (4th, shot put, 40-8.25) and Osborn (5th, long jump, 19-4) also medaled for the boys.
Grace Longendyke turned in the best individual performances for the girls’ at the NYC Armory, talking third in the triple-jump (33-2.25) and seventh in the long jump (14-1.25).
The Tigers are off until January 13th, when they hit West Point for the first of three consecutive Friday meets in Orange County Interscholastic Athletic Association meets. Cahill said the series of meets will be crucial for some of his athletes.
“My top kids that have a chance to qualify for the state meet, I really put the pressure on them for the next few weekends that this is really where we want to hit state standards,” he said. “New York State has set standards for each event, and if you achieve them it makes your qualification for the state meet that much easier. You can finish in the top three if you have the standard at our state qualifying meet.”