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Nov 11, 2019 12:36 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

East Hampton Girls Cross Country Wins First Ever County Title; Masi Qualfies For States

Bella Tarbet and the rest of the Lady Bonackers were all smiles after they got the official word they won the county title. DREW BUDD
Nov 12, 2019 1:12 PM

Coming into this season, the East Hampton girls cross country team was not on anyone’s radar in terms of winning a league title, let alone a county title. During their dual meet season, the Lady Bonackers won some matches and lost some matches, finishing in the middle of their league.

As the season wore on, though, something clicked for the girls, and by the time they got to the Division Championships, they had put themselves in the conversation as a team that could possibly be in contention for a county title.

On Friday, at the Section XI Championships, also known as the state qualifier, at Sunken Meadow Park in Kings Park, the Lady Bonackers proved they should have been in the conversation all along by winning the program’s first ever county title, winning the Class B race with 61 points, six ahead of both Bayport/Blue Point and Sayville, which tied for second place.

With the victory, East Hampton qualified its entire team for the New York State Championships, which are this Saturday, November 16, in Plattsburgh.

East Hampton didn’t have a runner in the top five of its race, and, in fact, Ava Engstrom was its fastest runner on the day, finishing ninth in 21:01.75. It was the team’s grouping that ended up being the difference. Dylan Cashin placed 11th in 21:33.59, Bella Tarbet placed 13th in 21:44.36, Ryleigh O’Donnell placed 18th in 22:12.52, and Emma Hren placed 23rd in 22:31.54. Megan “Mimi” Fowkes placed 51st in 30:19.29 — but only the top five runners are scored. All of the runners ran personal bests, according to their head coach, Diane O’Donnell.

“They knew that’s what they had to do,” she said. “Ava took it out, and they had to follow her, otherwise it wasn’t going to happen. Several of them went to the point of exhaustion.

“These girls are a Cinderella team,” she added. “No one ever expected them to come together the way that they have. They had some brilliant races and some horrible races, but as the season progressed, they just got stronger and stronger.”

If the team is a bunch of Cinderellas, then O’Donnell is the team’s fairy godmother. She’s been the program’s only head coach since it began in 1991 — prior to that, the girls ran with the boys as a combined team. Her runners said part of their motivation was winning it for the team’s longtime head coach.

“We were all crying about it last night. We’ve been having pep talks every day. This is all we’ve been thinking about,” Tarbet said, about winning the county title. “Our school, we’ve never had a great cross country team, and O’Donnell has been coaching here a long, long time. So it’s nice to be able to do it for her.

“It’s wonderful for me,” O’Donnell responded. “I really appreciate your efforts.”

Masi Heading Upstate

Joining the girls in Plattsburgh will be East Hampton sophomore Evan Masi, who finished the boys Class B race fifth overall in 17:22.78, to punch his ticket for the first time after just missing out last season by one placement. The top five individual runners in the race, with the winning team’s runners tossed out, qualify for states. Masi was the third qualifier behind Miller Place’s Tom Cirrito, the overall winner, and Blake Buscemi.

Masi said he’s been pushing himself all season to qualify for states.

“I didn’t want to miss it again, so this whole year I’ve been pushing myself further than I thought was possible,” he said. “It’s really amazing to see that hard work pays off, like they always say. It’s true, because I’ve been busting my ass all season. I’m definitely grateful that I have a great team, a great coach, and my team has been pushing me all year and it feels good that it’s finally paid off.”

Masi seems to be following in the footsteps of some of the program’s top recent runners in Ryan Fowkes, who graduated last year, and Erik Engstrom, who graduated before Fowkes. East Hampton head coach Kevin Barry agreed that it’s never really fair to compare runners from years past, but it’s hard not to with a talent like Masi, he said.

“He has the potential to be the greatest cross country runner at East Hampton High School,” he said. “I don’t think he’s realized how good he is yet. I think he’s just starting to realize. He doesn’t talk a lot about running, but you see the wheels going in his head now. He’s thinking about it, and I think he’s starting to understand what it’s going to take to go to the next level. He’s starting to believe in himself.”

The Bonackers finished eighth as a team with 177 points. Amari Gordon and Aidan Klarman were the next two finishers in 18:59.84 and 19:00.93, which placed them 34th and 35th, respectively. Westhampton Beach won the county title with 44 points.

East Hampton is a young team with half of its 24-man roster being sophomores. Barry said the plan all along was to prepare the team for next year, when it plans to make another run at a county title, which the Bonackers won recently in 2017. Both Frank Bellucci and Nic Vallenti were lone holdovers from that team and senior co-captains this season. Barry said both will be missed and that they added their own legacy to the team.

“To have a team this young, you needed good leadership, and I had two of the greatest captains and their legacy is going to be passed on these next two years.”

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Way to go! About time these athletes get the recognition they deserve. Bonac sports is more than football....
By harbor (415), East Hampton on Nov 11, 19 8:09 PM