BY MICHAEL KELLY
CLIFTON PARK — Six All-American athletes, a pair of national championships.
All in all, not a bad close to the outdoor season for the members of the Shenendehowa girls’ track and field program.
“An amazing finish,” said Shenendehowa coach Rob Cloutier, whose program won both Suburban Council and Section II team championships this spring.
Sophomore Hannah Reale, junior Julia Zachgo, and seniors Emily Crounse and Danielle Jordan combined for a record-setting win in this past weekend’s 4×800-meter relay at the New Balance Nationals Outdoor championships in Greensboro, N.C., while junior Jill Shippee won the hammer throw title. Meanwhile, senior Kristina Watrobski teamed with Jordan, Reale and Zachgo to register a fourth-place finish in the 4×1-mile relay to achieve All-American status with a top-six finish.
“It was crazy down there,” Crounse said of her team’s performance at nationals. “We’ve always had the national championships on our radar, but it still doesn’t feel real.”
Shenendehowa’s Crounse, Jordan, Reale and Zachgo won their relay national championship Saturday, a week after finishing at 8:56.83 to take second place at the state championships. That group had also won April’s Championship of America 3,200-meter relay at the Penn Relays with a 9:00.79.
“But we don’t peak at the beginning of the season,” said Jordan, crediting her team’s coaching staff. “We get faster.”
The team shaved more than 10 seconds off its Penn Relays time at the national championships, scoring its win this past weekend with a mark of 8:50.58 — a school and Section II all-time best, the No. 1 mark in the United States for this season, and the fifth-fastest all-time mark in New York and ninth-fastest all-time in the country.
“I knew that kind of time was there for them,” said Cloutier, who won a pair of indoor national championships as a Shenendehowa runner back in the 1990s. “They executed perfectly.”
Crounse led off with a competitive first leg and Jordan got the baton to Zachgo in third place. From there, Zachgo ran her part in 2:11.99 to pull her team into a near dead-heat with Virginia’s Western Branch.
“Julia gained so much ground,” Reale said. “She was awesome.”
Cloutier agreed: “Julia ran the best race of her life.”
Reale, Shenendehowa’s breakout star of the spring who won a Division I state title last weekend in the 800-meter run, took care of the rest. The sophomore ran a fastest-in-the-race split of 2:07.90 to secure the national championship.
“If we could get it to Hannah and have her be near [the first-place team’s runner], I knew we’d be OK,” said Zachgo, whose squad won by 0.45 seconds.
The next day, Shippee won her national title in the hammer throw with a mark of 181-2, almost five full feet better than the runner-up.
“I made it my goal this season to make sure I was an All-American, but I didn’t think I could win,” she said.
Shippee, who is also the goalie for Shenendehowa’s girls’ soccer team, was invited to compete in the hammer at the USATF Junior Outdoor Championships later this week. She said she is unlikely to make the trip to California for the competition.
Watrobski swapped in for Crounse for Sunday’s 4×1 mile relay, helping her team to a 20:27.10 mark, 16.80 seconds off the first-place time.
“I wanted to do my best to try to keep [my teammates] from having to work too hard because I didn’t know how tired they’d be,” said Watrobski, who was making her first appearance at the national championships.
And her teammates were tired. Reale and Zachgo said the national champion relay runners were unable to sleep much, if at all, before Sunday morning’s race. A 5 a.m. wakeup call was partially responsible, but the excitement from a national championship win was the real culprit — especially for the team’s seniors.
“It was a fantastic way for them to end their senior years and for our years,” Reale said. “We ended on a high note, but we’re still hungry to keep wanting more.”
“There’s definitely been a lot of ups and down in these past four years,” Jordan said. “It’s awesome to have it all come together in the last weekend.”