AHS girls finish 3rd at sectionals with wins from Stanavich, 4×400 relay team

With a chance to make school history only moments away, Lauren Santiago had a determined look when she stepped onto the track. Throughout the 2016 season, the Amsterdam girls varsity track and field team’s 4×400 meter relay team had not lost in competition. Entered in the last girls event of the NYSPHSAA Section 2 Group 2 track and field championships at Knox Field in Johnstown on Wednesday night, the Lady Rams team of Santiago, Brenda Santana, Olivia Lazarou, and Edena Sanchez faced their toughest competition all year from Academy of Holy Names, and Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake.

As the race started, Santana and Lazarou kept pace with leaders in the first two legs with the strength of Sanchez moving the team into third approaching the anchor leg. But, when Sanchez handed the baton to Santiago something happened that left the crowd in awe. Santiago flew around the first turn and passed Holy Name’s Hannah Loder and then raced after Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake’s Rory Graham. As the two runners entered the far turn, Santiago passed Graham too and then proceeded to increase her lead by a margin that nearly left the crowd in a stunned silence as a few people uttered “that’s impossible.” Santiago consumed the 400 meter distance in less than 60 seconds. The Lady Rams 4×400 meter relay team remained unbeaten for the season and along with freshman 100 meter hurdler Gabby Stanavich, were crowned Section 2 Group 2 event champions. The Lady Rams team finished third overall with 63.50 points behind only Emma Willard (88 points), and Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake (139.50 points). It was the best finish ever at sectionals for an Amsterdam girls track and field team.

“My heart is going a million miles a minute,” Amsterdam junior Edena Sanchez said after the race. “When I handed Lauren the baton I just knew what she was going to do. We have this thing where I knew she was just going to go out and eat up everything in her way.”

The win in the 4×400 meter relay was crucial in the Lady Rams effort as it kept them in front of Academy of Holy Names for third place. It was significant for Santiago, who earlier in the day finished second behind Loder in the 400 meter run with a time of one minute and .36 seconds, and the freshman then talked about getting her times under one minute.

“I was happy I ran a sixty,” Santiago said after the 400 meter run. “I’m looking forward to getting my times down. That’s my next step, getting my times lower than one minute.”

It didn’t take long, and the win in the 4x 400 meter relay with a time of 4:05.30 capped off a day that saw all three AHS girls relay teams place in the top four with the 4×800 meter relay team of Emma Gomez, Lazarou, Emma Patrei, and Sanchez getting things started with a third place finish running a time of 9:59.52. Once again, the Lady Rams team gave it everything they had passing several competitors, including Lazarou, who ran the second leg of the race and passed four runners to boost AHS into third, a place that Patrei and Sanchez held for the remainder of the race. Nearing the finish, one runner even looked back to notice Sanchez gaining ground on her. The AHS girls 4×100 meter team of Alyssa Kuchis, Brenda Santana, Kaitlyn Devine, and Giuliana Pritchard took fourth with a time of 51.74 seconds, earning yet another ribbon for the Lady Rams.

Overall, Coach Palczak handed out more patches and ribbons at the end of the day than any other Amsterdam girls track and field team had ever achieved before. And as it went throughout the season, the relays were at the heart of the team’s success.

“They were determined,” Amsterdam coach Stu Palczak said. “I’m not surprised the 4×400 team did well, and that Gabby (Stanavich) did well. That was our expectation and that’s what we planned for. They’ve met our expectations all season long.”

Amsterdam couldn’t have had a better start with freshman Gabby Stanavich bolting out to a strong first place finish in the 100 meter hurdles, flying past the competition in 16.66 seconds.

“It’s awesome,” Stanavich said. “I didn’t think I would do that well, but I had a lot of help from my aunt. I was nervous with the last couple of hurdles.”

Stanavich’s aunt is Amanda Davey, who is also an AHS track and field alumni, and her best event was the hurdles. Davey was at Knox Field on Wednesday doing a little coaching and a lot of encouraging.

“I’m happy to see her run,” Davey said. “She’s only a couple of seconds off my sister’s (Marie Davey- AHS 1999) school record in the hurdles and I’m pushing her to break that record. She has a lot of potential, and what she did today shows you what’s in store for the future.”

Stanavich will join the Lady Rams 4×400 relay team as part of a strong contingent of Amsterdam athletes headed to the June 2-3 state qualifier meet at Shenendehowa High School.

“There definitely will be a lot of competition at states,” Stanavich said. “It will be a lot of fun.”

Stanavich is also part of an AHS girls team roster that is comprised of mostly freshman and sophomores. The group of underclassmen was responsible for the majority of the patches and ribbons gathered by the Lady Rams. Stanavich added a third place in the 400 meter hurdles (1:09.95), sophomore Brenda Santana claimed second in the 200 meter dash (26.16 seconds), and third in the 100 meter dash (12.94), and freshman Emma Gomez placed sixth in the long jump with a leap of 14 feet and 11.75 inches.

A pair of juniors also contributed to the scoring in individual events for the Lady Rams. Alyssa Kuchis placed sixth in the high jump with a height of 4’4”, and Sanchez battled to finish second in the 800 meter run with a time of 2:18.87.

Sanchez reflected on her day with a smile and had praise for her teammates.

“It was crazy,” Sanchez said. “Look how far we’ve come as a team. I thank my coaches and my teammates, they’re the reason I run. I wasn’t feeling well and they got me up and rolling. I have to thank all of them for that.”

Sanchez had a busy day helping the Lady Rams score in three events and will provide a strong presence at the state qualifier. Also among Amsterdam’s best were Giuliana Pritchard (12th, 100 meter dash), Santiago (10th, 200 meter dash), Emma Patrei (12th, 800 meter run, 15, triple jump), Olivia Lazarou (7th, 1500 meter run), Emma Gomez (12th, triple jump), Kayla Dzikowicz (15th, 100 meter hurdles), and Kayla Sondrup (14t,- 3000 meter run).

And while none of the Amsterdam coaches could confirm that Gabby Stanavich and the 4×400 meter relay team were the first sectional event winners for an AHS girls track and field team, it is certain that the overall third place finish by the 2016 team is the best in school history, and the number of patches and ribbons handed out is the most for a Lady Rams team. Another first is the fact this marks the first year the AHS girls track and field team will send more than one athlete to the state qualifiers.

“We will have good representation at the state qualifier,” Coach Palczak said. “We could do something special.”

It’s the talent, hard work, and spirit of athletes like Santiago, Sanchez, Lazarou, Santana, and Stanavich that make this team capable of doing just that, something special.

Scott Mulford

Scott Mulford has been covering local sports for over 20 years. He previously wrote for the Amsterdam Star and The Free Press of the Mohawk Valley.