ALBANY – With Maine-Endwell junior Michael Palmer and Newark Valley sophomore Courtney McNeil heading the charge, Section 4 athletes claimed five gold medals and two sectional records on Day 2 of state track & field championships at University at Albany.
Palmer bested all competitors in the pentathlon, establishing personal bests in four of the five events spread across two days. His 3,540-point total was 34 better than runner-up Drew Alfano of Sachem East. McNeil doubled as Division II (small school) champion in the 100- and 200-meter dashes. Likewise best in Division II was Mike Beebe, who cleared 6 feet, 6 inches.
One Section 4 record belongs to Union-Endicott’s Emily Mackay, runner-up in what was arguably Race of the Meet, Saturday’s 1,500. She ran 4 minutes, 25.32 seconds. The other was grabbed by Vestal 8th-grader Tia Jones, who placed second among Division I public schoolers in the 200-meter dash with a 24.79-second clocking.
Palmer held a 32-point lead over Alfano as the two stepped to the starting line for the pentathlon’s final event, the 1,500-meter race. The mission was clear: Keep tabs on his nearest pursuer, run a smart race and the championship was Palmer’s.
“About 150 meters left he started to make his move, that’s when I knew I needed to go,” Palmer said. “Because I knew if I let him get to far away I wasn’t sure how much I’d have left. When we got to the last 50 meters it was all about who wanted it more.”
And that was the young man from M-E, who crossed the line in 4:39.01 to Alfano’s 4:39.32. Palmer improved his personal standard in that event as well as the 110 hurdles (15.14 seconds), shot put (38 feet, 9 ¾ inches) and long jump (20-7 1/4). And the 6-5 ½ high jump certainly did him no harm.
As for sitting back and savoring an overall state championship in the most demanding event of them all?
“For a minute or two, but then it’s right back to work— what do I need to do for next year so I can go even higher,” he said. “Now I’ve got my sights on the section record (3,669 by Chris Petry of Trumansburg).”
Newark Valley’s McNeil demonstrated considerable improvement through the meet, re-establishing her personal bests by surprising chunks.
After winning the D-II 100-meter title by running 12.37, she dropped that to an IAC-record12.12 as fifth-place finisher in the overall final. But most impressive was her race to win the DII 200-meter title, particularly the final 70 or so meters when she shifted into overdrive and sped home to a 24.85-second clocking.
“I’m good at catching up when people are in front of me,” she said of her wildly impressive charge. Of the two wins, which will she recall most fondly? “My 200, because I beat my PR by more than half-a-second.”
Properly fueled for a huge day was this lass, some quality pasta Friday night followed by a Banana Nut Cheerios and peanut butter toast Breakfast of Champions.
U-E’s Mackay ran brilliantly to her 4:25.32. Sidney’s Jennifer Finnegan did a 4:27 in 1990, and Elmira Notre Dame’s Molly Huddle a 4:27.04 in 2002. But just as Mackay set a Section 4 record, so did Rush-Henrietta sophomore Sammy Watson top Section 5’s charts with a 4:25.24. Yes, it was that close.
Mackay took the lead right off the line and maintained it, by a healthy piece of track for a time, until Watson caught her with maybe 100 meters to run. Watson held the lead down the straightaway, but oh-so-narrowly held of a surge by Mackay. Had the race been designated for 1,505 meters, the gold medal would have been Broome County-bound.
“I put my all into the race. I was completely dead at the end, to be honest,” she said. “(Watson) surprised me, that’s for sure. I didn’t hear her behind me. She just came flying past me, didn’t see her coming.”
It was the kind of speed one might expect from a girl who, the day before, ran a meet-record 52.69 to win the 400.
Windsor’s Beebe proved quite the quick study, claiming the small-school championship in his first season high jumping. Seems Black Knights coach Tim Hogan rather liked what he saw of Beebe on the basketball court and talked him into the spring sport.
Saturday’s 6-6 clearance matched his competitive best.
“I never thought of winning Division II of states, I just did it for something to do,” Beebe said.
Rounding out an exceptional day for Section 4 high jumpers was Chenango Forks junior Victoria Godden, who got over 5-4 that left her second in DII and joint-seventh overall.
The 24.79-second 200-meter clocking by Vestal’s Jones enabled her to slip past Lindsey Seymour of Elmira Southside (24.81 in 2010) atop sectional charts. She went on to back that with a 24.83 as fourth-place finisher in the Federation final.
Susquehanna Valley senior Richard Buchanan ran second in the DII 1,600, but far more impressive than the placing was the lopping of nearly six seconds from his previous best. He attributed the dazzling 4:12.66 to “good competition, someone in front of me to chase down.
“Very surprised, very happy. I couldn’t have asked for a better race. Last race of my high school career, I had to go out with a bang.”
Binghamton’s Alexis Daniels placed second in the D-I shot put. Her first attempt went 43 feet, 11 ½ inches, her lone put in six tries that reached 40 feet.
Austin Dean of Sidney threw the discus 160 feet to grab his second runner-up D-I finish in as many days. Also placing third in D-II was Maine-Endwell’s Alex Laubert, who ran 15.50 in the 100 hurdles.
On Twitter: @PSBKevin