ENDICOTT, N.Y. — For Melina Ortiz there is something about being the underdog that she relishes.
During indoor track and field she’s multiple times been to states after not being seeded to do so.
On Wednesday she earned her first trip to outdoor states the same way.
Seeded third in the 400 meters in Division II, Ortiz won the race, beating everyone from both classes, with a time of 58.79.
“It’s been a hard season, those Trumansburg girls are incredible,” Ortiz said. “I knew it was going to be a good race, and I’m not going to lie, I was a little worried going into it.
“I did what I have been training for this whole season, and it paid off and luckily the weather finally cooperated and I got a good time in. My first time going to states in outdoors and it’s really exciting.”
For Ortiz there is just something about not being the top seed in a race.
“I don’t know why, but for some reason I do better when I’m not seeded high up there,” Ortiz said. “I don’t know if it’s pressure, but I know I have someone to chase and someone to push after and I just keep my eyes on them and run as hard as I can and hope eventually I’ll be in front of them.”
Making her first outdoor state meet is special for the Waverly junior.
“I am thrilled,” she said. “Indoor is a great experience, it’s been fun, but I have no idea what an outdoor state meet is like. It’s going to be a great experience. It’s going to be different than indoor, but still the same great atmosphere, great competition. I’m going to see a lot of fast girls and hopefully get a PR and maybe even break the school record, I don’t know.”
One thing that makes going to states even more special for Ortiz is having teammate Cora Smith (3000 meters) make it for the girls and Isaac Chandler (pole vault and 110 hurdles) and Dylan Ward (800) for the boys on the first day of two days of the state qualifier.
“It’s incredible,” Ortiz said. “I have to say, I guess I’m a little biased, but the Waverly track team puts in so much work. There is never a time that people aren’t pushing themselves and each other. They are so supportive, I can’t tell you how many hugs I got going back to the bleachers. I will literally stop my warmups to watch my teammates.
“I want to thank my coaches and teammates for their endless help and support throughout the season, I couldn’t have done it without them.”
Smith earned her first trip to states winning the 3000 meters overall with a time of 10:24.64.
A year ago Smith led her division most of the race and was caught toward the end. She wasn’t about to let that happen this year.
“I really focused on redemption from last year and making sure I didn’t get beat that last 200,” Smith said.
Smith knew she had a group of runners on her shoulder the whole way, but she also knew she had to keep pushing.
“It was very tough, it was mentally challenging and physically, but I thought I could work through it.”
The biggest competition in her division was Bainbridge-Guilford/Afton seventh grader Ethne Degan, who was third overall in 10:29.11.
“She was competition, like I had last year, and I thank her for that,” Smith said. “I was glad I had someone pushing me, some of the other meets have been lesser competition.”
Smith now has some pressure off her shoulders as she gets ready to run the 1500 meters today.
“It takes some pressure off me, so I’m happy about that,” Smith said. “It will be good competition.”
After what happened last year at the state qualifier, Smith was more prepared this year.
“I made sure to prepare better this year and know how to run the race better,” Smith said. “Pacing myself and knowing when to kick it in at the end.”
Notre Dame’s Alyssa Walker made states by winning her division, finishing fourth overall behind three Corning runners, in the 800 in 2:22.22.
“It feels amazing,” Walker said. “I was so nervous the whole week about this race.”
Right at the start Walker found herself boxed out and in the back of the pack.
“I tried to get behind Catie (Eisenhut of Lansing) because she was the person I had to beat and I kind of got cut off and I just got pushed to the back.”
After that, Walker moved her way back to the front and stayed right with Eisenhut, until Walker made her move over the last 400.
“I raced her the other week and I made a really bad race error and I went too soon and she passed me with 10 left and I was like I can’t mess up like that at state quals. I was trying to stay right on that first place person in D2 and get them with 150.”
As she came to the finish Walker pushed it hard and nearly caught the third Corning girl, pulling away from Eisenhut, who finished in 2:24.75.
“I felt really good at the 300, and I got to the 100 and I was like ‘come on Alyssa, you feel good, just get to the line, just get to the line.’”
Walker knows she likely could have gone even faster, but she just wanted to get to states.
“I definitely could probably run that race a little faster, but it was all about placement today, that’s what I was concerned about,” Walker said.
Now, she will run in the 1500 with Smith and Eisenhut and a loaded field today, but she knows she’s already going to states.
“I am in the 15 tomorrow, we will see how that goes,” she said. “I have this weight off my shoulders because I’m going. I did want to run well in the 800 going into outdoor. It’s going to be amazing, my favorite part of state quals is when I already made it and I can go race.”
Ortiz is into the finals today in the 200 after finishing fifth in the prelims in 26.60.
Sheridan Talada was seventh in the 3000 in 10:52.62. In the shot put Kennedy Wheeler of Waverly was fifth at 32-feet, 7 1/4-inches.