Photo submitted David Graveley, Julian Gallup, Andrew Druziak and Izaiah Brown are shown Sunday at the New Balance Nationals Outdoor championships in Greensboro, N.C. The four Amsterdam High School athletes competed in the 4x400-meter relay and came in fifth place.
Photo submitted Members of the Amsterdam Track Club pose in front of a banner at the New Balance Nationals Outdoor championships in Greensboro, N.C. The boys, all Amsterdam High School students, competed Sunday at the championships. Shown, from left, are: Edgar Maldonado, David Graveley, Izaiah Brown, Julian Gallup, Andrew Druziak and Gabe Fernandez.
By MICHAEL KELLY
Eight days after winning a state title, the Amsterdam High School boys 4x400-meter relay team made a last-lap comeback at Sunday's New Balance Nationals Outdoor high school track and field championships to finish in fifth place and ended its season with a visit to the podium at the national competition.
"It was an extraordinary experience," said AHS senior Julian Gallup. "We're all kind of amazed we did that."
Joining Gallup on the relay squad were juniors Izaiah Brown, Andrew Druziak and David Graveley, while sophomores Gabe Fernandez and Edgar Maldonado served as the squad's alternates.
The Rams -- who competed Sunday as members of the Amsterdam Track Club, since the NBNO championships are not an officially sanctioned high school competition -- posted an all-time, area-best time of 3 minutes, 17.03 seconds, breaking the record of 3 minutes, 17.62 seconds Colonie set in 2006.
"That was definitely a goal," said Graveley. "We wanted to take that down -- it needed to be broken."
New Jersey's Union Catholic won Sunday's relay title with a time of 3 minutes, 13.05 seconds at North Carolina A&T State University.
The Rams entered the NBNO championships as the No. 6 seed and knew they were not likely to climb up too many places based on the seed times of their opposition.
"But I don't think we felt intimidated," said Gallup. "Obviously, they were all great teams ... but we just went out and ran our race."
Knowing the odds were against his team, AHS boys head coach Kevin Wilary had a simple message for his squad before its race: "Run with your heart, your legs will follow."
Graveley started the race off strong for the Rams, but the increased level of Sunday's competition quickly became evident. Graveley handed to Gallup, who handed to Druziak, and all three ran strong legs -- but the club found itself in eighth place as the baton moved to Brown.
That did not surprise the Rams, who had expected the competition at the event to be unlike anything they had ever previously seen.
"These kids," said Graveley, "are all here for a reason."
"And, they sure were fast," Druziak said.
When Gallup got the baton, he said it was remarkable to see how fast the opposing runners took off at the lap's start.
"Right then, I knew it was a different kind of race," he said.
But the Rams had their usual ace in the hole: Brown, perhaps the country's best prep runner at the distance.
While the Rams in 2013 had handed the baton to Brown nearly 100 meters out of first place and finished in 10th place, the 2014 Rams only put Brown back roughly 70 meters at the start of his turn.
The extra 30 meters of work from the team's first three runners made a huge difference, Wilary said.
"At that point last year, we were pretty far out of it," said Wilary. "This time, Izaiah had people in striking distance."
Brown picked off three runners, posting a split of 45.16 seconds. That time was 1.46 seconds faster than any other runner in the race, and made a trip to the podium a reality for the Rams.
"Getting the baton in eighth place, I knew I had some work to do to catch some guys," said Brown, who referred to the fifth-place finish as a "victory" for the Rams.
On a day in which the temperature soared well into the 80s, Wilary said he received something of a celebratory post-race bath in the aftermath of the Rams' performance when he hugged each of his runners.
"I got drenched because their jerseys were drenched with sweat," Wilary said.
The top six teams at the event made it onto the podium, with each of the clubs' athletes wearing a crown on the stand.
"Oh my God -- that was the best feeling ever," said Graveley. "We were all so psyched to do it."
That type of enthusiasm was present throughout the weekend for the six athletes from AHS that made the trip to North Carolina. The quest began with a long ride in a van, and the fun started during that ride.
Druziak said his favorite memory from the trip was when the athletes and their coaches -- besides Wilary, girls head coach Stu Palczak and assistant coach John Decker made the trip -- stopped Saturday morning for breakfast after starting their drive late Friday night. Each of the athletes had slept for most of the ride, and Druziak said none of them had any idea where they were when they headed into a Waffle House.
"So, Izaiah asked our waitress where we were," said Druziak, laughing as he thought back on how the group found out it was in Virginia.
The laughter became a little hushed when the group made it Saturday afternoon to the site of the NBNO championships. While Brown had been to the championships in 2013, the rest of the Rams were newcomers to the event -- and the facility and number of top-flight competitors floored the athletes.
"Absolutely," said Wilary. "They were in awe as soon as they got there. You don't get the chance to run with the best athletes in the country every day."
Druziak said the Rams knew making it to the national event was a big deal, but the junior said the club did not soak in the true magnitude of Sunday's stakes until moments before its race.
Once on the track for warm-ups, Druziak said it all came together for the Rams.
"At that time, I saw all the people in the stands, and I realized where we were," Druziak said.
Minutes later, the Rams were on the podium, proving for good that they had belonged at the event. That moment capped off a remarkable two-weekend stretch, which started with both Brown and the AHS relay team winning state titles, and ended with Brown placing third Sunday in the 400-meter dash and the relay team coming in fifth.
For the second spring in a row, the AHS boys outdoor track and field team captured the attention of its community. In the past two years, the Rams have won three state titles and twice visited nationals in North Carolina.
Wilary said his club appreciated the support from its community this season, and that it had helped to fuel the Rams' effort Sunday.
"My phone, when I looked at it, I had 20 missed text messages from when [Sunday's] race started to when it ended," said Wilary. "For Amsterdam and Amsterdam High School to have something as awesome as this going on, it's great for our community."
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