Ketcham boys set 4×800 relay record and reach Nationals

This, thought Nick Castorina, would be the last race of his sporting career, the last 800 meters of a chapter that would soon be closed.

His view of the watch was momentarily obstructed during his second lap, so he chose to ignore it. The plan was simply to go all out and pretend his relay team was a second behind him and that he was a second off his personal best and a second from a record.

“Before I looked at the scoreboard, I checked my watch and saw they were done under eight minutes,” said Roy C. Ketcham’s track and field coach Charles Ropes as he watched the team compete at the state championships last weekend. “I thought, ‘Oh my God.’ They really cracked eight minutes. That’s great.”

Castorina was already content after crossing the finish line, content in believing that he had drained the tank and done his best. He was then rushed by his teammates, and Eddy Corporan slung an arm over his shoulder and turned his attention to the scoreboard.

The animated response of her bulging eyes and nearly drooping jaw was the image that was worth 1,000 hours of training.

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“We look at the board and say, ‘Wait. That’s 7:55. Oh my god, we did it!” said Castorina. “That was on our minds all season. We’ve been waiting for this for a long time.”

The school had been waiting even longer for a group that would do this.

The quartet of Castorina, Corporan, Connor Hitt and Nick Taylor broke the program record in the 3,200m relay that had stood since 1976. They clocked a time of 7:55.43, beating the previous 8:08 mark.

Their performance provided an encore to Castorina’s swan song and earned them a place in a national tournament that weekend.

“It’s really cool,” Ropes said. “The boys realize how old this record is and how important it is to break it. It’s a great performance and they didn’t break him by a second or two, they made it by a lot.”

Ketcham placed sixth overall in the race but third among public schools within its classification.

“The families have such a support system and that makes moments like this very special,” Ropes said of the state tournament at Cicero-North Syracuse High School. “The kids had their parents, aunts, cousins, all up there.”

Castorina ran a personal best of 1:53.62 on the final leg, which was the second fastest split time of any runner in the event and a time good enough to set the Ketcham record in the 800 meters. He’s beat his previous best by nearly four seconds, which Ropes says is “a bit surprising at this level.” Hitt, a sophomore, had a split of 1:58.69.

Taylor and Corporan are juniors, so three of the four members of this team are expected to return next season, and Ketcham reckons on maybe having a shot at section and state titles.

The boys qualified for the New Balance Nationals outdoor tournament, which is being played at the University of Pennsylvania this weekend. They will compete in the 4×800 relay championship class on Saturday night. Joining them there is long-distance runner Abby Kowalczyk, who competes in the Freshman Girls’ mile and 2-mile races.

Kowalczyk already holds the Ketcham record in the girls over 3,000 meters, her 10:11 beating Gabrielle Cuccia’s previous mark by 28 seconds. The promising ninth-grader has played throughout the running season this school year and is part of the reason for the optimism about the future of athletics at Ketcham, Ropes said. She and Hitt are young standouts whose names will be heard often for years to come.

Also, the coach said, Jon Scampoli owes a little gratitude. The senior excelled for them as a pitcher, but he also helped recruit several athletes who filled important roles for the team.

“There are some nerves but the big pressure was states,” said Castorina. The senior is going to Binghamton University but is unsure if he will run there. “I wasn’t content with just getting there, I wanted to do well there. I went to the States for the winter season, but the other guys on the relay team are young and it was their first time. I wanted it to be unforgettable for us.

“The Nationals will be my last high school race, but I don’t feel like there’s that much pressure. It’s something we will enjoy.”

Stephen Haynes: [email protected]; 845-437-4826; Twitter: @StephenHaynes4

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