After coming up just a few points short of a league title last season, the Irvington Boys track team re-wrote the script, turning in the original copy that the school had read time and time again, in the 2008 spring campaign.
The Bulldogs avenged last year’s second-place finish to Pearl River in a major way, dumping the Pirates off by a whopping 56 points to reclaim the league championship.
Efficient times across the board, strength in numbers, and a senior class whose spikes will be tough to fill next season helped launch Irvington back into familiar territory.
The Bulldogs have now won 13 of their last 14 league meets, keeping their gifted resume intact.
The Bulldogs became a perennial power in track under Hall of Fame coach Pete Oley. Oley brought track to Irvington decades ago and left a lasting legacy in New York State track and field. The track guru with an elephant-like memory established a state record with 138 consecutive victories.
Oley retired two seasons ago, and current coach Chris Barry (who served as an assistant under Oley for several seasons) continues to mold a track dynasty that’s both regal and rigorous.
After Pearl River defeated them by a three-point margin during a regular-season dual meet, Irvington wanted nothing more than to return the favor. The brutal blood-lettering in the league meet has put the Bulldogs back on the map.
“One of my big goals as a relatively new coach is to keep the ball rolling,” explained Barry, who also coaches the Bulldogs cross-country team in the fall.
“Pete used to always say, ‘the beat goes on.’ When I spoke to him recently, after we won the league meet, that’s what I told him.”
Barry places a strong emphasis on not only “making a great effort” but holding oneself to a high standard on top of it. With an influx of new blood that included some football players, the team embraced their coach’s mindset this season.
The Bulldogs finished third in the Westchester County meet. The roster boasted three state qualifiers. Irvington’s success in the races and field events ran parallel to their success in the classroom.
A goal-oriented coach who fills his runners’ heads with words from the great Steve Prefontaine (the Bulldogs have the late Olympian’s famous saying, “To Give Anything Less Is To Sacrifice The Gift” emblazoned on their team warmup shirts) Barry kept the message simple this season.
“You gotta want it” was the short maxim that the stacked senior class, led by Panos Papanicolaou and Justin Ross, subscribed to.
In his final season in the green-and-white, Papanicolaou established himself as one of the top discus throwers in New York. The behemoth captured the league and sectional crown before finishing seventh overall in NYS/Division-II.
A team captain, Papanicolaou racked up points meet-after-meet while laying out a blueprint for other athletes to follow.
Ross punched his ticket to the state finals by way of the pole vault, but the senior did so much more for the Bulldogs. Ross was part of the 4x100 relay team and also excelled at the triple jump.
Barry said he wanted to give Ross, a longtime member of the program, some management of the team this year. The senior took it and ran with it.
Zach Barlia was a multi-faceted athlete who cleared 6-feet in the high jump and clocked a high-water mark of 53.9 seconds in the 400.
The headline story of the year was the emergence of sophomore Julian Saliani, who skyrocketed to success as a miler. Saliani etched his name in the record book and left many opponents in the dust, blazing around the 1600-meter race in four minutes, 28 seconds.
Steve Towley (middle distance) improved drastically, chipping 20 seconds off his 800 time. Ben Kounitz sustained his role as one of the county’s premier sprinters. The rangy Jina Hamad clocked around the 2-minute range in the half-mile. Hamad was at his best during the Sectional and County meets and led the 4x800 relay team.
Jimmy Bonavita and Eric Oppenheimer, a pair of football players, made an immediate impact and immersed themselves in the intricacies of a sport they knew little about prior to this spring.
With a firm foundation returning and many of the team’s distance runners preparing to defend their sectional title in the coming cross-country season, Barry smells a promising future.
Everything unfolds in early August with the Nike Green Mountain Running Camp in Lyndon, Vt. Barry is a director of the camp and encourages it to his runners.
“It’s a big part of our success,” explained Barry, who will once again utilize the “You Gotta Want It” motto.
“The teams that want it the most are the teams that get it. A lot of times, it comes down to who wants it the most.”
The field that Oley built continues to rock. The beat goes on.