Jen Gerland made waves in the track community last year when she won the Nassau Class AA steeplechase crown as an eighth-grader.
If yesterday was any indication, the Garden City freshman could make an even bigger splash this year.
Gerland started her county championship defense on the right foot, winning the girls open 2,000 steeplechase in a personal-best time of 7:14.90 in yesterday's Steeplefest Invitational at Port Jefferson.
"I really want to break the freshman national record, so I knew I'd have to start stepping it up," said Gerland, whose previous best time of 7:21.9 came at last year's state qualifier meet. "Today was good because it showed that I have the potential to break that."
Gerland, the top seed entering the race, stuck with Clarke's Tristynn Mercedes for the first two laps, then made a move at the halfway mark to take the lead.
From there, the freshman opened up a 50-meter gap on the field as she cruised to victory. "It's hard to kick in the steeplechase with all the hurdles," she said. "So I knew that if I could just get over the hurdles good and pull away from the leaders, then I'd have a chance."
Ashlin Conroy (Kellenberg) took second in 7:31.32, and Shannon Ahern (Kings Park) clocked a 7:34.59 to finish third.
Rob Calamia of Smithtown East took the boys open 3,000 steeplechase in 10:04.70, holding off Port Jefferson's Andrew Keresztes (10:14.70) and Sachem North's Colin Eberhart (10:15.10).
"I wanted to come in and just race against myself," Calamia said. "I got tired at the last 100, but I thought I did all right."
Chaminade's Thomas Awad ran away with the boys open 2,000 steeplechase, winning in 6:12.47 in his first career attempt at the event. James Burke (Port Jefferson) finished second in 6:23.54, and John Antonacci (Bayport-Blue Point) took third in 6:28.59.
"It's my senior year, and I wanted to do it just once before I left," Awad said. "Chaminade is known for having good steeplers, so I wanted to give it a go and see how I'd stack up with them."