photos and story by Don Rich
NEW YORK NY 11/27/04 -- The pre-meet talk was just that. Mere speculation. Some wishful thinking. Probably a little dreaming. Maybe, just maybe, the Saratoga Springs girls - the #1 team in the land - could put three of their incredibly talented girls in the top eight at the Northeast Foot Locker meet. After all, two had gone in 2003, and both returned. But you had a sense that as wild as it seemed when you said it aloud, that others had the same feeling. Nope, stop it. Snap back to reality. Sure, they're good, but no team is that good.
Then we all got a reality check. They are that good. And they knew it.
Their coaches knew it. And as any athlete worth their dreams knows, that's the first step toward creating your own reality.
Not three, but four Saratoga girls are going to the Foot Locker National championships, making up HALF the Northeast team. And that's a week after the entire varsity eight put up their unparalleled credentials to defend their ranking as the US#1 team at the first Nike Team Nationals in Portland next Saturday .
The Kinetic Running Club; as Saratoga is known for the post-season meets; has been setting history all season. Setting scoring and team average records at meets big and small. But placing four in the top eight of a region that includes 12 states and DC is the stuff of legend (must be something in the air at Vanny this year).
Coach Art Kranick says they started watching and charting the times of other region athletes during the season. "After we made it through States and Feds, and started to compare times we ran at Manhattan, then you can get an idea of where you stand with individuals, and it looked really good for four people." But they even considered five a possibility. "Our fifth girl that we thought might make it is a senior, Karyn Delay." Delay finished 28th in 19:09.5. If you're scoring the meet straight-up, that's 1-3-5-6-28, or 43 points in the region. Who's #1?
The race itself was over for most hopefuls by the time they reached the woods. The theory holds that the hills will eat you alive if you go out too hard. Well, that theory is not ascribed to by Aislinn Ryan of Warwick, or the Saratoga bunch. Ryan went out hard, as is her nature (and talent). "I try to go out like I feel, and I felt good, so I just went." She had a 30 meter lead on a very thin line of mostly Saratoga girls just after the Foot Locker man. Just how fast did they go out?
Nicole Blood thought it was quick. "I expected Aislinn to go out hard, because we always go out hard. But what was our first half, 2:24 or something? Kind of crazy. So we kind of chilled out a little bit after that."
The chilling only meant that Ryan was joined by the four Saratoga girls and several other strong souls entering the woods. Ryan was happy to have the company. "I didn't know who it was, but it definitely helps to have people around, because it helps you to remember what kind of race you're in so you can push harder and focus."
Ryan stayed with Blood until the back hills as the two got separation on even the rest of the Saratoga team. By 2.25, Blood had a lead - smaller than in 2003 - but a lead she held through the finish.
Followed shortly by three teammates.
Art Kranick doesn't shy away from the best-ever talk. "I think that this is the best that has been in the United States, ever... with the times they have been posting." And because they haven't started their taper, both he and Nicole think they have a few more seconds in them.
If Saratoga can stay as healthy as they've been all season, they could be absolutely electric out west. No, better make that kinetic.
With eight in Portland and four in San Diego, they'll spend the week on the West Coast, for, as coach Linda Kranick says, "a real learning experience for the girls."
The only ones not looking forward to the trip are those left behind in Saratoga. Art says he's going to miss their dogs. "but they're going to have to handle it."