Up until a few days before the state track and field qualifier meet, Southampton freshman Bridget Ferguson was still unsure if she’d attend.
Although she had qualified to compete in the high jump, she, like many other classmates, was overwhelmed with school work, and Regents testing prep classes in particular.
She was seeded last in the high jump, not expected to qualify for states, and had not been able to attend practice much in the week leading up to the meet, which left her wondering if it was worth the effort.
Her mother, Erin Ferguson, ultimately convinced her to go, telling her daughter not to worry too much about doing well, but instead to just embrace the journey.
By the end of the meet on Saturday, Ferguson was a county champion.
Ferguson finished fifth overall but was the top finisher among Small Schools competitors, to earn the Division II title and a trip to states next weekend. Ferguson and several other small school competitors, who were seeded above her, cleared the 5 foot height, but none of them could clear 5 foot 1 inch, and because Ferguson had the least amount of misses at the earlier heights (competitors have three attempts at each height), she earned the title.
Southampton head coach Eddie Arnold said he had been OK with several of his athletes needing to miss practice to accommodate their schoolwork in recent weeks. He added that he and his assistant coaches had stayed later to help some of them get in some practice, but also said that several of them were feeling overwhelmed with studying for finals and preparing for big state tests. He said he knew Ferguson had the talent to do well in the high jump, but acknowledged that he wasn’t sure what to expect after she had missed some practices and was dealing with the stress of testing.
“We came into the season knowing she could jump, but she has been feeling a little overwhelmed lately and hadn’t been jumping that well,” he said. “All the schooling was starting to wear on her, and her classmates were feeling the same way. This is new to them, because they’re all young.”
Arnold noticed right away during warmups at the meet, however, that Ferguson seemed to be in a good groove.
“Her steps were good, her speed was good, and her pop was good,” he said, adding that she looked “flawless” in clearing the opening height of 4 feet 8 inches. He got even more excited when she cleared 4 feet 10 inches on her first attempt.
“Everything we’d done over the season was finally coming together,” he said.
Ferguson had only one miss at 5 feet, and then, after failing to clear 5 feet 1 inch on three attempts, had to wait and see if any of the other small schools competitors would clear it. When the dust settled, none of them could do it, and she was the small schools county champion.
Ferguson will head to states, set for June 7 and 8, at Middletown High School.
Ferguson was the lone Lady Mariner to qualify for states. The team’s 4x400-meter relay squad of Dreanne Joseph, Michele Gagliardo, Gabriella Arnold and Amanda Mannino, fresh off an upset of Mount Sinai for the Division III championship last week, was unable to repeat that effort at the state qualifier, finishing sixth overall in 4:09.39. Mount Sinai was the top small schools finisher with a time of 4:04.92, taking fifth overall.
“We fell a little short in the relay, but we were division champs, and they had a really good run,” Arnold said. “I really believe that, at this level, the kids have to visit the experience to know what it’s all about. It was a Cinderella story, because no one expected us to beat Mount Sinai.”
Southampton’s other competitor at the state qualifier was junior Rebekah Moritz, who cleared 8 feet in the pole vault. Her best effort during the season was 8 feet 6 inches, which tied the school record. Arnold pointed out that Moritz only learned the pole vault a month ago, so he was proud of her effort.
Southampton should be strong again next year. The team had 17 freshmen, and while 11 seniors will graduate—including Gagliardo, who was on the 4x4 team—there is plenty of firepower returning next season.
The boys team did not have any competitors at either the division championships or the state qualifier. Luke Rey, a strong sprinter for the team, had a decent chance in the 100 and 200-meter races, according to head coach Tony Dottin, but he declined to compete because of other commitments.