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Friday, April 29, 2016: R-H junior Watson wins girls mile at Penn Relays

   Leading off today: Cross another item off Sammy Watson's track and field bucket list.

   The Rush-Henrietta junior hauled in one of the most prestigious regular-season prizes in the sport by winning the girls mile at the Penn Relays on Thursday at Philadelphia's historic Franklin Field.

   Watson finished in 4:49.56 to beat Nokesville (Va.) Patriot standout Rachel McArthur (4:50.80), who anchored the championship distance medley relay in 2015.

   Sage Hurta of Hamilton placed fourth in 4:54.69.

   If not for an outlandish anchor performance, Saratoga's girls would likely have brought home the distance medley championship. The Streaks quartet of Amelia Mahoney, Valentine Starnes, Keellyn Cummings and Kelsey Chmiel finished second in 11:46.84.

   The win went to Burke (Va.) Lake Braddock in 11:36.52, the fourth-fastest mark in meet history. Monroe-Woodbury placed third in 11:51.65.

   Lake Braddock anchor Kate Murphy took the baton 25 meters behind Saratoga anchor Kelsey Chmiel and ran patiently for two laps before kicking into high gear. She finished her mile in 4:37.65 for one of the day's big buzz-worthy efforts.

   A couple of other quick notes from Penn:

    • Shenendehowa's girls 3,200-meter relay qualified second for Friday's Championship of America race.

    • Emily Crounse, Danielle Jordan, Julia Zachgo and Hannah Reale (2:11.51 anchor) posted the nation's No. 2 time for the young season by finishing in 9:11.03. Mamaroneck and Bronxville also advanced to the 12-team final.

    • Paul Robeson's girls had a stellar opening day at the meet by qualifying their 400 and 1,600 relays for the Championship of America.

    Charnice Anderson, Alyssa Sandy, Latoya Stewart and Amanda Crawford clocked :47.82 to reach the small-schools one-lap COA as the fifth seed. In the 1,600, Stewart, Alyssa Sandy, Bryann Sandy and Crawford (:55.18 anchor) qualified eighth in 3:50.54.

    • The high jump featured a pair of strong early-season marks by rust-belt standards. Sarah Kowpak of Archbishop Molloy was fourth at 5-5.75 and Samantha Hjelmar of Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake eighth at 5-4.25.

   Following up: There's no word yet on the result of the appeal by two football programs seeking to avoid being bumped up in class by Section 6. The Buffalo News reported Friday that officials at Maple Grove and Chautauqua Lake, who've come together to win back-to-back sectional Class C titles, would like to remain as a combined program regardless of the appeal verdict. However, it's possible the schools could go their separate ways in order to avoid the move to Class B.

   Buffalo Bennett, which lost the 2015 final to MG/CL, is appealing its proposed move to Class A.

   Cool story of the day: Newsday reported this week that Harborfields junior Nathan Melnyk is believed to be New York's first wheelchair athlete to compete against able-bodied students in a varsity tennis match.    Melnyk made his debut Tuesday in a doubles match at Smithtown East, winning the first four games alongside partner Bobby Bellino before the match was suspended by rain. The schools will attempt to complete the contest Monday.

   Melnyk, who was injured in a March 2009 auto accident, returned shots on his forehand and showed a solid, slicing second serve, the paper reported.

   "I was looking forward to this since I was able to play on the team for the first time," said Melnyk, who previously competed on the junior varsity.

   Under U.S. Tennis Association rules, wheelchair players are allowed two bounces to return a shot. Otherwise, the game remains the same.

   "I first saw Nate play when he was an eighth-grader. I went down to check on the middle school team, my farm system," Harborfields coach Bob Davis said. "All of a sudden, playing third doubles, this young man comes out in a wheelchair and the hair on the back of my neck stood up. I just couldn't believe it. He was pretty good. I was shocked. I went home and told my wife, 'I can't believe what I just saw.' It was fantastic."

   Melnyk played exhibition matches for the Harborfields JVs the past two seasons and competed successfully on the USTA's wheelchair circuit, his father said.

   Off the court, Melynk is taking five Advanced Placement courses this year and also plays the violin in the school orchestra.

   Formats up for discussion: The agenda for Friday's NYSPHSAA Executive Committee meeting includes votes on changes affecting the state tennis and girls lacrosse tournaments.

   The expansion of the lacrosse tournament from three classes to four beginning in 2017 was already approved in an earlier vote. Now the girls committee has submitted a

proposal for class enrollment cutoffs that would place 77 to 78 schools in each:

  • Class A: 1,075-up
  • Class B: 790-1,074
  • Class C: 475-789
  • Class D: 474 and under
   It's expected that the proposal will be approved.

   The new cutoffs for the boys tournament will be a discussion item rather than come up for a vote, because their lacrosse committee was of the opinion that it might be better to try to make sure each section retained at least two teams in each class when possible.

   Consequently, their proposed numbers are:

  • Class A: 1,050-up
  • Class B: 750-1,049
  • Class C: 501-749
  • Class D: 500 and under
   That would leave 87 schools in Class A, 84 in B, 67 in C and 98 in D. The NYSPHSAA Championship Advisory Committee was unanimous in its opposition earlier this month.

   Boys and girls tennis are mildly complicated events because the season-ending tournaments include competitors from the CHSAA (girls only) and PSAL who are inserted right into the regular draw. Under the proposed change, non-NYSPHSAA entries would play down to a winner in a separate bracket and then send their singles and doubles champs up against the NYSPHSAA champs for Federation titles.

   The proposal is meant to head off the possibility of NYSPHSAA entries getting shut out of the finals of tournaments in which the vast majority of competitors come from NYSPHSAA schools.

   Some thoughts about that:

    • If the format change is approved, the Federation match could be the sixth in three days for the NYSPHSAA athletes. It would be only the third match in two days for the CHSAA or PSAL athletes.

    • It's less of an issue in wrestling than in track, but both of those state meets contain athletes from all three associations. Two sets of medals are awarded -- one for Federation results and one solely for NYSPHSAA-school results -- and it seems to work out OK.

    • Is this a solution in search of a problem? I think there's only been one singles or doubles finalist from outside the NYSPHSAA in the last half-dozen girls tourneys. I only see one champ and three other finalists from outside the NYSPHSAA in the last six boys tourneys.

    The last 96 boys or girls semifinalists break down as 86 from the NYSPHSAA, 8 from the PSAL and 2 from the CHSAA.

    Heck, the next move might need to be finding a way to pare back Section 1, which has had 38 semifinalists in the same span.

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