by Heather Colley
The Sleepy Hollow track and field team has an impressive array of star athletes that will be graduating this spring, and this year’s seniors hope to end their high school careers on top.
Mark Jelenek attributes his ability to dabble in every area of the sport over the past four years to the excellent program itself. “Track is definitely a great sport when it comes to finding your niche. You have so many different events from throwing to jumping, sprints, long distance. I’m even looking forward to practicing the pole vault this year,” he said.
Jelenek certainly had no trouble finding his niche of expertise within the sport; as a Senior Captain this year, he leads the younger runners and sets lofty goals. Last spring, Jelenek’s four- person squad beat the school’s record in the 4×400 meter relay, then won at the Eastern States Competition.
The sport also is largely focused on individual performances. There is no better example of exemplary individual determination than Cassidy Higgins, a track star and hurdler at Sleepy Hollow who has become a league champion for the 55 meter hurdles and set the school record for the 100 meter hurdles. Higgins reflected on the support of her outstanding coaches as she sets high prospects for this upcoming season, hoping to beat all of her personal records.
“Mrs. King has become my second mother. She has pushed me to both my physical and mental limits in the past four years, and even checks in on me about my academics. I would not be the athlete I am today with her support and inspiration,” Higgins said.
Chelsea Hiciano, a senior star hurdler on the track team, also attributed a sense of dedication and community to her coach, Mrs. King. “She taught me that life is full of disadvantages, but setting goals can push you through,” Hiciano said.
This past indoor track season, Hiciano broke the record for the 55 meter hurdles, despite being one of the shorter runners. Despite the obstacle, Hiciano simply pushed herself to achieve what many would consider impossible as a hurdler on the shorter side, and she won’t settle for being a single record holder. She hopes to break more records this season, and Hiciano will finish out her track career under the instruction of Mrs. King, Mrs. Hickey, Mr. Benedict, and Mr. Gersfeld, about whom she said, “I could not have been where I am today without them.”
Griffin Gebler and Wendell Brand are two of the team’s male stars this year, and both are projecting huge personal gains this season. Brand has won league championships in both the long jump and the triple jump. He expects to finish his final year of track and field with a bang by setting new personal records every meet.
Gebler is a multi-event athlete for the team, and jumps with Wendell and Pape Laum, both seniors on the team. Gebler works hard every day to get faster and stronger, and his determination leads to inevitable success. Gebler runs as part of the 4×400 team, and has set a personal record with a 56 second 400. But he doesn’t plan on stopping now, Griffin will strive this season to beat all of his own records, and thanks his coaches stating, “Mr. Gersfeld and Mrs. King are the best coaches I could’ve asked for. They create an amazing environment that makes me want to come back and try the hardest I can every day,” Gebler said.
Nolan Samford and Roger Bucci are perhaps the team’s two unsung heroes. Both are star athletes who hold records within the school and have received awards at a league championship level. Samford will be attending Binghamton University where it is projected that he will be a successful walk-on to their Division 1 track and field team. Samford placed sixth at a winter league Armory track meet with a 37.14 second 300 meter dash.
Bucci is a distance runner, with a season best 2.47.38 in the 1000m. This outstanding speed placed Bucci in the top 10 in the Section meet this winter. Sam Dorn, a sprinter who persistently places at league meets, boasts a 7.8 second 55-meter dash placing her in the top five sprinters of the league at winter Armory meets.
Jackie Maldonado summed up the spirit of the Sleepy Hollow track team when she said, “My coaches and teammates have always been there, on and off season. Even though track is an individual sport, the varsity team has developed a group dynamic and I’ll miss that for sure.” On her outstanding coach, Maldonado said, “Between the tough love, positive encouragement, and her years of experience, Mrs. King gives her best every minute of practice. I’ll miss her from the minute I step off the track at the end of this season.” A four-year distance runner every track season, Maldonado runs a 5.34 minute mile and consistently places at league meets as she carries the distance team on her back.