The Greyducks Just Won’t Slow Down
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At five in the evening at the McCarren Park Track in Brooklyn, Stuyvesant’s girls’ indoor track and field team, the Greyducks, is sprinting around the track, dressed in thick hats and wooly gloves to fight the 30 degree weather. They shiver as they wait in between sets, and they heave forcefully with every step they take, as many of them run in masks. It may seem counterintuitive for an indoor track team to host practices outside in the cold, but as COVID-19 cases reach unprecedented levels around the city, it’s become an unfortunate reality that suffering through the harsh weather is the only way for team members to safely train together. With lofty expectations and even loftier goals, the Greyducks know that perseverance through these difficult circumstances is necessary, and these girls are aiming for the top.
When the start of practices was delayed until late November and early December, there was barely any time for the team to train and hone in on its specialized events before races commenced. The PSAL Jim McKay Games, hosted at the Armory on December 5, were the team’s first chance to compete this season. It was a novel experience for underclassmen and upperclassmen alike, as freshmen and sophomores had their first ever opportunity to experience a high school indoor track meet, while juniors and seniors raced indoors for the first time since the cancellation of their season nearly two years ago in March 2020. At this meet, senior and co-captain Susan Zheng placed sixth in the 600-meter run, while senior and fellow co-captain Zuzi Liu placed second in the triple jump. Senior Cecilia Chen was sixth in the shot put event, the team’s varsity 4x800-meter relay finished fourth in their division, and the freshman 4x800-meter relay team finished third among freshman teams.
Following the McKay Games, the team raced at the PSAL Night of Sprints, the Coach Saint Invitational, and the PSAL Holiday Classic to round out a busy December. The Greyducks were most successful at the PSAL Holiday Classic, with a number of athletes finishing in medaling positions (top six in an event): junior Isabella Stenhouse and sophomore Caroline Hon finished first and sixth, respectively, in the varsity 3000-meter run; Zheng placed third in the varsity 1000-meter run; Emily Li and Suyeon Ryu placed first and fifth, respectively, in the freshman 1000-meter run; junior YuLin Zhen placed sixth in the varsity 1500-meter run; senior Charlotte Li was sixth in the varsity weight throw; and the team’s varsity 4x800-meter relay finished first.
As the team has competed, the rapid spread of the Omicron variant has forced Greyducks’ head coach Carl DiSarno to reconsider his plans for the team. “I have moved practice to be outdoors more, as opposed to indoors at the Armory, so hopefully more athletes will show up. Attendance at practice has dwindled due to COVID positives and some fear of COVID positives,” DiSarno said. As the Greyducks practice outdoors, there is a greater risk of injury from running fast in extremely cold conditions.
“We have worked on injury prevention a lot this year and have a document that helps to advise new runners [on] how to stay healthy and fit,” Zheng said. Not only have practices been affected, but the team has yet to get all of their top runners to race in the same meet, which has heavily impacted relay teams. In addition to winning the 4x800-meter relay at the PSAL Holiday Classic, the Greyducks placed first in the 4x800-meter relay at the Day of Relays, the team’s first race in January, so their relay teams have done well thus far. Nonetheless, the absence of key members at both meets caused the team’s fastest 4x800-meter relay of the season, 10:36, to fall six seconds short of the time needed to qualify for the City Championships.
The degree to which COVID-19 will impact the rest of the season is anyone’s guess, but DiSarno remains hopeful that the season will continue. “I’d be very upset if [the season gets] canceled, [and] I wouldn’t be surprised if it [is], knowing the PSAL, but I don’t think it will happen. I think we’ll finish the season,” DiSarno said.
Looking ahead, the Greyducks have a number of invitational meets before getting to their season’s culmination: the Borough and City Championships. With such a talented group of athletes, DiSarno says that the Greyducks will first try to win the Manhattan Borough Championships and then qualify as many individuals and relay teams as they can for the City Championships. “In our borough, Hunter [College High School] has a very good team, as does HSMSE [High School for Mathematics, Science, and Engineering],” DiSarno said. Two years ago, Hunter edged out Stuyvesant to finish in first place in the borough, but during the 2021 cross country season, the Greyducks were utterly dominant. All five varsity scoring members finished in the top 10 spots at the cross country Borough Championships. They were led by distance runner Isabella Stenhouse, who continued to build on her impressive high school running career by finishing first at both the cross country Borough Championships and City Championships, as well as qualifying for the all-state team after an impressive showing at the NYS Federation Championships. Stenhouse won both the 1500-meter and 3000-meter events for the indoor track Borough Championships her freshman year and will likely be the favorite to win again in February. Along with Stenhouse, Liu will lead the team in short-distance events and guide a new generation of freshman and sophomore sprinters, while Chen will be the team’s top competitor in various throwing events.
There’s a lot to look forward to for the Greyducks. First and foremost, DiSarno is especially excited to be welcoming the new freshmen and sophomores who have yet to compete in an indoor track and field season. Likewise, senior and co-captain Margaret Jin feels honored to be leading a new generation of Greyducks and is excited to see their hard work pay off at the end of the season. “It’s been difficult to maintain consistent training given the understandable health conditions, but we’ve been working on establishing more flexible training plans. I’m most excited about seeing all our athletes—distance, runners, sprinters, throwers, and jumpers—compete together at Borough’s and City’s,” Jin said.
It’s going to be an adverse journey for the Greyducks, but there’s no doubt that they have what it takes to reach their goals. Athletes will have to remain strong and resilient to fight through the tough weather, but it will all be worth it as their hard work comes to fruition in time for the most important meets next month. Hunter and HSMSE better watch out as the Greyducks fly across the track and perform in their top events, hopefully beating out all competing teams for a Borough Championship victory.