By MICHAEL KELLY
TOWN OF AMSTERDAM -- For the first time this season, the Amsterdam High School outdoor track and field teams get to strut their stuff against some of Section II's top athletes.
The clubs head this morning to the University at Albany, where the Rams and Lady Rams will compete against roughly 15 teams in the CBA/La Salle Relays, which begin at 10 a.m.
"It's going to be fun to see the different people and it will be fun to compete with everybody," Lady Rams eighth-grader Olivia Lazarou said earlier this week.
Both AHS clubs have perfect records through a couple Big 10 meets. After easily handling the competition in the first couple weeks, AHS girls head coach Stu Palczak said the squads bring a multi-faceted approach to today's invitational.
"There's multiple goals," said Palczak. "One is, obviously, to do well as a team, but the more important goal is to see how our really good kids do against other good kids and then also try to work our less experienced kids into events at an invitational so we can see how they can compete."
Both the Rams and Lady Rams have athletes that fit into both of those categories. For the boys, junior Izaiah Brown will compete in the 200-meter dash in one of the event's two individual competitions; for the girls, eighth-grader Brenda Santana will also compete in the 200-meter dash, while teammates Lazarou and senior Delilah Quinones will participate in the 1,500-meter run.
Palczak said those athletes -- plus jumpers like seniors Abby and Hannah Wollman, and junior Maddie Janetsky, and the members of the Lady Rams' 4x800-meter relay -- are the ones most likely to succeed at this first invitational.
"I'm interested to see how they all do," he said.
Lazarou is coming off a a banner performance Wednesday, in which she won both of her individual events -- one of which was the 1,500-meter run, a race in which she lowered her personal-best time by more than 10 seconds. But after competing at a high level in the fall in cross country and in the winter in indoor track, she said big meets like today's never get easier.
"It gets more difficult along the way -- which is good," she said. "It keeps me going, keeps me improving."
For the boys, Brown will be a favorite in his individual event, but the club also has some interesting relay entries. Most notable is the Rams' 4x400-meter relay team, which will run with a team of Brown, seniors Jared and Julian Gallup, and junior David Graveley. The AHS boys' 4x400-meter relay team went to states last spring, again this winter during the indoor campaign, and the squad has designs on keeping that streak alive.
"We know that's one of the focuses of our season, so that's an important one (today) for the team," AHS boys head coach Kevin Wilary said.
Wilary listed off several other individuals as key participants for the Rams, but said there is special significance today for sophomore Gabe Fernandez. The sophomore will compete in the varsity race for the 4x800-meter relay team, and will lead the Rams in the 4x100- and 4x400-meter relay races in the freshman/sophomore division.
"He has a really busy day and it's going to show his versatility," Wilary said.
Fernandez is normally a 400-meter runner and up, but said he is up to the challenge of running in a 4x100-meter relay.
"I'm not really a 100 runner, so I'm surprised to be in it -- but I'm excited," he said.
While most eyes will be on the varsity races, Wilary said the races designed for youngsters should be a telling sign of the Rams' depth for 2014.
"We have some really good freshmen and sophomores on the team, and I have a feeling we're going to do a really good job with those," Wilary said.
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