YORKTOWN – Matt Sayre pushed up the hill that was part of a loop in FDR State Park as if he were running on flat ground. His long, colt-like legs never broke stride.
Before Lakeland/Panas’ early-evening workout concluded, he logged more than seven miles. But he was clearly not only capable of doing more but also willing to do so.
“Matt’s work ethic inspires,” girls first-year coach Rosalind Gallino said.
Gallino, a longtime indoor and outdoor track coach, has already made changes to the way the Lakeland/Panas girls cross country team functions.
Point one: Prior to this year, Sayre would have been inspiring only his fellow boys; the girls practiced separately.
But Gallino and boys coach Ryan Johnson share the same ideology, she said, so working together makes sense.
Already, on Monday, during their teams’ first official workout of the season, the coaches knew almost all the athletes’ names – both boys and girls.
Some names are easy to remember, like Sayre and Grace Bugara. Chances are even the youngest kids on the team know her name because the senior beat most of the boys around FDR.
Gallino said that meant many boys would try to pick up their pace Tuesday.
“We make each other better,” she said.
If the Lakeland girls get better, watch out.
Last year, they beat 23 other teams to win the Westchester County Championship.
Bugara finished fourth in that race, but Bugara, who plans to run in college, has trained all summer and looked better than early-season strong Monday.
Gallino listed a handful of teams to watch out for, including Ursuline, John Jay-Cross River and Bronxville.
Bugara took the question of competitors region-wide and pointed to North Rockland and Suffern as posing a significant challenge. But the four-year varsity cross country runner, said, “I think it’s great they push us. I love to run with them. I think it’s a great motivation when I’m racing.”
The emphasis is on “us,” according to Gallino.
“The whole focus is to work more as a team than as a group of individuals who show up to race together,” Gallino said, pointing to a large group of both girls and boys doing post-run exercises together as Johnson instructed.
Johnson thinks his boys can finish top-three in the county, although he added a cautionary “We’ll see” to that.
Besides Sayre, who was fifth in the Section 1 3,200 state qualifier and sixth in the 1,600 qualifier last spring, Johnson cited two other seniors, Reed Friel and Konrad Biederman, as likely substantial contributors, along with sophomore Carlos Vasquez.
Of the improving Sayre, who was 48th at cross country States last fall, he said, “I’d like to see him top-10 in the state. It’s a lofty but realistic goal. He came on strong in track last year.”
Besides Bugara, who wants to return to States, where she was 48th last fall and who was 12th in the mile at the prestigious Penn Relays, Gallino’s stable of athletes includes senior Maggie McCarthy, whom she constantly urged on as McCarthy chased Bugara around the FDR loop.
Her other top returnees are juniors Claire Smith and Jenna Pressman.
Seniors Vanessa Buetti and Maura Coakley and seventh-grader Brooke Sayre (Matt’s sister) are considered strong candidates to round out the top seven who’ll normally race.
Bugara is optimistic, saying she thinks her team has a great chance to qualify for States, believing “all the girls are going to step up.” And she’s certainly willing to work to enhance Lakeland/Panas’ chances.
“I want to pull my part for this team. I want us to get farther than we did last year,” she said, adding of her dedication to the sport, “I love to run. I love the feeling of success at the end.”