After losing some of the best young athletes in the nation to graduation, many in Suffolk believed the Huntington winter track and field program was entering a long rebuilding period. The Blue Devils might have a few surprises in store for their opponents.
“How can you replace a Kyree Johnson (Texas A&M), Lawrence Leake (Georgetown), Shane McGuire (Univ. at Buffalo) and Mark Rafuse (Lycoming),” Huntington head coach Ron Wilson asked rhetorically. “With losing such a talented cast of athletes one would think that we would be done. Not so fast!”
Ron Wilson is Huntington's award winning varsity boys' track and field coach.
The Blue Devils won their fourth straight league crown last winter and came close to capturing the large school county championships, before bowing to Smithtown West by a handful of points after Johnson’s hamstrings tightened and he couldn’t compete in long jump, which he was favored to win. Throw in the loss of McGuire, who was injured earlier in the season and it was a small miracle that Huntington came as close as it did to grabbing the Suffolk title.
Fast forward to this week after some of the greatest track athletes in Blue Devil history have moved on to the college ranks and what is left on the team is a crop of tested veterans and promising newcomers. “We still have a great group of throwers in seniors Clay Jamison and Sam Bergman,” Wilson said. “They return as two of the top throwers in the county.”
Jamison’s best shot put throw last year was measured at 49-09 feet. “We expect him to shatter his personal best en route to his first county championship,” Wilson said boldly. “Bergman returns as the top guy in the county in the weight throw. He placed fourth last year with a toss of 49-10 feet. They both have to recognize it’s going to take hard work and perseverance if they are to qualify for the state championships.”
Huntington’s shot put corps will be bolstered by junior Eric Sands and sophomore Gary Barash. Sands won last year’s sophomore class championship while Barash was the second in the freshman county meet. “These two showed great promise last year and should be even better this year,” Wilson said.
Senior Levi Leach is still another talented thrower. The teenager advanced to last year’s state qualifier in discus and he “should improve” this winter, Wilson said.
In the jumps, senior Michael Drake will return as one of the top high jumpers in the county. Drake finished the season last year with a leap of 6-02 feet. “He will be a contender for a county crown as well,” Wilson said.
Drake also ran as an alternate on Huntington’s 4x400m relay team. “He’s full of talent and should be a huge factor in our success as a team,” Wilson said.
Long jump will feature senior Aaron McQueen who returns back to the pit after a one year hiatus. The teenager jumped an impressive 21-feet as a sophomore. “We are looking for him to make some noise this year in both the long jump pit and also on the track.”
Blue Devil football star Alex LaBella is also in Huntington’s winter track fold. “He is a multi-talented athlete that has speed and great agility,” Wilson said. “Look for him to be an impact runner on the track and in the jumps.
Other returners on the track are junior Jonathan Smith, senior Brian Pierre and freshmen Anthony Joseph. “These three played a huge roll on last year’s county championship 4x400m relay team,” Wilson said. “These are definitely three to watch this season.”
Talented underclassmen sprinters include freshmen Nasir Youngblood and Jason Turner and sophomores Justin Stevens, Jaylen Bush, Rhaliek Thomason and Junior Flores. “These young men will have to step up their game if we’re to be successful as a team,” Wilson said.
Huntington’s distance corps is getting a boost behind freshmen Aidan Heller and Isaiah James and sophomores Jason Verville and John Segreti, all of which enjoyed strong cross country seasons this past fall ready to dazzle Suffolk opponents.
Joining the varsity team from J. Taylor Finley Middle School are eighth grade sensations Bryce Robinson, Josiah Melendez, Jahiem Hawkins, Kaleef Riley and Liam McDonald. “These young men will be phenomenal in the years to come,” Wilson said.
Huntington is just striving to compete, but to win gold medals. “We will look to advance several of our athletes to the state championship this year,” Wilson said.
The Blue Devils will continue in Suffolk League III and hope to capture their fifth straight conference crown. “It’s always difficult to defend your championship title,” Wilson said. “There are a number of great teams in our league, including North Babylon, West Islip, Deer Park, Bellport, Half Hollow Hills West, West Babylon, East Islip, Eastport-South Manor and Comsewogue. They all boast some outstanding athletes.”
Huntington is keeping a wary eye on its chief nemesis, Hills West. The teams battled it out during the outdoor season in just about every event and more of the same is expected this winter. “They are returning quite a few mid-distance sprinters as well,” Wilson said. “So with that in mind, we know and understand that our road to a championship is going to be a difficult one. However, our boys have never backed down to a challenge. Our top returning athletes are determined to compete at a high level and those who are joining us this season for the first time will look to make a name for themselves as well.”
The Blue Devils will begin the competitive season on Saturday, December 9 at the Nassau Coaches Invitational at Ocean Breeze Athletic Complex in Staten Island. The following day (Sunday, December 10) Huntington will compete in the first in a series of five Section XI crossover meets at Suffolk-West in Brentwood.