Mepham Girls Cross Country Heroes

To most people, the high school sports hero is the superstar who dominates both the competition and the coverage; the lone performer whose abilities have led to accomplishments so breathtaking that they linger in the hallways well after they have moved on. Over the past few weeks there has been much talk of "Mepham Sports Heroes," and Amos Zerroue, Ken Hunte, Mark Belger, and Christine Curtain, names which resound in the memories of many Mepham Alumni, have rightfully been mentioned.

However the definition of what constitutes a sports hero is as debatable as who Mepham's greatest athletes are. Allow me to add to this discussion by giving you a glimpse into a team of athletes who became heroes in their own right by forging their own definition of the word. In the years between 2002 and 2007, the Mepham girls Cross Country won 6 straight Class County titles, including 3 overall Nassau titles. Such dominance during this era places these girls in exclusive company within the lore of Nassau County athletics.

In the summer of 2002, the Lady Pirates were led by senior Captains Katie O'Connor and Jamie Lee, along with sophomore Jessica Restivo. While these three were all talented veterans in their own right, the addition of freshmen Erica and Melissa Hylton, Dawn Leavy, and Aileen Monks were exactly what the contingent of harriers needed to raise them to the next level. After simply dominating the conference, the girls managed to fight their way to an overall County title despite having to go through defending champion East Meadow.

The departure of a highly decorated leader like Katie O'Connor can be difficult for any team; however the group stepped up and continued their dominance over Nassau by winning next 2 County titles. A large part of their success in 2003 and 2004 was the maturity of their 2-year captain, Jessica Restivo. Jessica managed to push the younger athletes toward higher goals, such as placing at States. Concurrently, Erica Hylton and Dawn Leavy began to develop into two of Nassau's best distance runners. Yet the biggest spark to the Lady Pirates was a tall, thin 8th grader from Grand Avenue who would go on to set the Mepham record in the steeplechase and garner seven All-State awards. Her name was Courtney Kelly.

By 2005, the Hylton twins, Leavy, Monks, as well as seniors Amy Kilgallin, Sam Cosenza, and sophomore Courtney Kelly were ready to lead the Lady Pirates. This core was joined by freshmen Samantha Rae Beim and Katie O'Brien, who had only an inkling of the legacy they were joining. Their willingness to let the seniors lead and learn as much as they could quickly had them in All-County shape, which helped the team earn a top 5 ranking in the state. Although Erica Hylton was plagued by both illness and injury during the fall, the Lady Pirates refused to give up. While the team did not win the overall title, they toughed it out to win the class and earned a berth in the state meet. The girls finished a close 5th at States, with two all-state athletes (Leavy and Kelly). Despite the setbacks, the Lady Pirates still managed to have a very successful season.

The following summer, after bidding farewell to such a strong group of seniors, the Lady Pirates sailed on. The addition of Candace Receno, Ashley Barfield, Elise Martin, Rachel Agoglia, Danielle Parker, and Jane Tracy, would help the tradition started by Christine Curtain, Debbie Cuttita, and many others thrive. Even though a tough loss at the class county champs derailed one streak, but their streak of conference meets and league meet champs continue.

One might ask what this all has to do with "Sports Heroes," and the answer would be that a hero does what it takes to help their team. All of these girls had a vital part to play and trained with a team purpose to achieve it. On the athletic fields one athlete can dominate and raise the level of their teammates, but out on the cross country course a team member is alone and must succeed or fail on their own. The courage to understand the harshness of the individual event to succeed as a team is one of the most heroic actions an athlete can do.

By Dave Frazer '94