By MICHAEL KELLY
Recorder Sports Staff
TOWN OF AMSTERDAM -- Right from the start, the seniors on the Amsterdam Rams track and field team's roster set the tone on Senior Day at Amsterdam High School against clubs from La Salle Institute and Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons.
Competing against a foursome from ND-BG with state championship chops from the cross country season in the 4x800-meter relay, the AHS senior quartet of Matt and Nick Raponi, John Hardies and Anthony Stewart pulled off the victory, topping the Golden Knights by several seconds.
"We've been running against those guys for a long time -- that same group of four guys for them that have been very successful -- so we knew what we were going up against," said Hardies. "And (winning) that set a precedent for success."
The Rams (6-0) emerged from the Big 10 dual meet with another pair of wins, as AHS topped ND-BG, 125-39, and LSI, 107-72.
In their first real test of the league season, the Rams responded as well as head coach Kevin Wilary could have expected. While LSI and ND-BG both lacked the overall depth to challenge AHS, the Cadets' sprinters and field athletes were able to compete with the Rams, while ND-BG provided the challenge in distance events.
"Knowing that we had competition and there was the potential they could sneak one out on us, it was good to see the kids giving it their all," said Wilary. "The intensity the kids had from knowing this was a meet we had to really compete in, it was great to see."
Hardies led the charge Wednesday, winning all three of the events in which he competed. Besides being a member of the winning 4x800-meter relay team, Hardies also outran ND-BG's Jason Lange in the 800-meter run and ran the penultimate leg in the 4x400-meter relay.
"John is showing that he's one of the best [distance] runners in the section right now," said Wilary. "He knew today was going to be a day where he was going to have to step up big."
In the 4x400-meter relay, Hardies was able to keep pace with LSI's Gabe Smith -- who won the 100-meter dash, and came in second place in the 200-meter dash -- before handing the baton off to sophomore Izaiah Brown.
"That was a victory for all of the distance guys. We've worked a lot on speed work and [running against Smith] was a challenge I was happy to have," said Hardies. "For me to keep it within two, three meters, it was very reassuring for myself because you know Izaiah's got it."
Brown set a torrid pace in his lap of the race, as the Rams were victors. Also on the day, Brown was a winner in the 200-meter dash, 400-meter dash and high jump. Also adding individual wins for the Rams were David Graveley (110-meter hurdles), Luis Laboy (long jump) and Omahri Sturdivant (triple jump).
Senior Connor Kilgallen added a victory in the pole vault and a second-place finish in the 400-meter hurdles. He said the best part of Wednesday's win for the seniors was getting to see the team's underclassmen step up and show off the club's depth; with very few exceptions, none of the Amsterdam athletes competed in the maximum four events allowed.
"We've got a really strong team this year. We've got multiple relays that are great ... and it really looks promising for the next couple of years for us."
One of those underclassmen showing off Wednesday was freshman Edgar Maldonado, who had a career-best day in the high jump. Setting off a wave of excitement with the Rams, Maldonado topped his previous personal best by six inches, last clearing the bar at 5 feet, 6 inches.
"I've been working so hard for this," said Maldonado. "I couldn't believe I got this today."
Amsterdam has next week off from league competition, and then will head to Albany the week after to attempt to wrap up its undefeated regular season in the league. Wednesday gave the team's seniors the chance for a fond farewell in their final home meet.
"We're going to miss it," said Kilgallen. "But it was nice to get the win and go out undefeated here at home again."