Ottomanelli Showed Versatility by Winning Hurdles, 800 As Stuart Track Took 3rd Straight Indoor Prep B Crown
TRIPLE CROWN: Stuart Country Day School track star Alex Ottomanelli, center, enjoys the moment with teammates Cara Carr, left and Heather Kwafo after the trio placed in the top four in the 55 hurdles at the state Prep B indoor championships earlier this month at the Lawrenceville School. Senior star Ottomanelli took first in the event with Kwafo coming in second and Carr taking fourth. In addition, Ottomanelli won the 800 and helped the 4×400 relay take first and set a school record helping Stuart place first in the meet for the third straight year.
By Bill Alden
Even though the Stuart Country Day School track had taken first in the last two state Prep B indoor championship meets, Alex Ottomanelli and her teammates knew that their streak was in jeopardy as they prepared for the 2020 competition.
“We were just trying to keep positive all week, we were all hyping each other up for the meet,” said senior star Ottomanelli, reflecting on the championship event that took place on February 1 at the Lawrenceville School.
“Going into it, we did not know how it was going to turn out. We thought that us and Villa Walsh were going to be eight points apart so we didn’t really know.”
Senior star Ottomanelli was determined to get as many points as she could for the Tartans.
“I just really wanted to win my events for the team; that was what was most important for me because I knew that every point was going to be valuable,” said Ottomanelli.
“I did the 55-meter hurdles and the 800. I was more nervous for the 800 because there were some really good girls entered. I just really wanted to take it for the team.”
Ottomanelli ended up having a very good meet, winning the 55 hurdles and the 800 and helping the 4×400 relay take first and set a school record of 4:28.93, as Stuart placed first by piling up 120 points with Villa Walsh taking second at 86.
Getting off to a good start with a win in the 55 hurdles gave Ottomanelli a lift.
“I was seeded first and that really gave me confidence going into the race,” said Ottomanelli.
“I knew that anything can happen so I was just focused… on really pushing hard to the end and trying to take the win. It is hard, in the hurdles, you are so tempted to look right or left. You really have to stay focused and just look ahead. If your trail toe is down, you are falling.”
After coming through in the hurdles, Ottomanelli was primed for the 800.
“I like to say I am more of an 800 runner so for me the hurdles are probably harder,” added Ottomanelli.
“My race plan was to sit on the leader and then kick it in at the end. I always rely on my kick at the end of each race.”
Ending the meet on a high note, Ottomanelli was thrilled to use her kick to help the 4×400 produce its record-breaking performance.
“We already knew that we had the win so we were like let’s just go and have some fun,” said Ottomanelli.
“We did not expect to get the school record at all, everyone ran with heart. It took the pressure off, I think that is why we did so well.”
Juggling the hurdles and the 800 has required Ottomanelli to adopt a grueling training regimen.
“I always come to practice early and I always leave late,” said Ottomanelli.
“I am working on the technique for my hurdles and then in the middle I always do a 200 or a 400 workout. I love interval training. I do cross country in the fall to stay in shape; I build my base through the cross country.”
Thriving with that extra work, Ottomanelli has made track a major priority in her life.
“I am definitely much more serious; coach [Len] Klepack has had a big role in that, he has really helped me,” said Ottomanelli, who plans to compete in track at the college level.
“Through him and his guidance, it has made me more excited about the sport. Over the summer, I really took it upon myself to train on my own and work hard in the offseason. That is really important for you to keep going.”
Stuart coach Klepack knew his team faced a hard challenge coming in to the championship meet.
“We had our doubts on paper; I had Villa Walsh winning the meet because they had great distance runners,” said Klepack.
“I had it 86-80 on paper. You do that for fun. There are only so many events so you can fool around with that. What happened was that a lot of youngsters stepped up.”
But in the end, the numbers added up for the Tartans as they displayed their depth and competitiveness.
“The big thing is that we scored in every event, that is very unusual to do so that shows the strength of the team,” said Klepack.
“You look at the names of the youngsters that we have who were fourth in the different events, you can see really how we have improved.”
Klepack credited Ottomanelli with continuing to improve over her stellar career.
“She has expanded her events; last year she as the first one to win at county in the outdoor championship in the 400 intermediate hurdles,” said Klepack. “She has become a very serious athlete and she wants to run in college.”
Another senior, Heather Kwafo, had a very good day for the Tartans, placing first in the both 55 dash and 200 dash and finishing second in the 55 hurdles.
“Heather has really developed into an outstanding athlete, not just in the sprints but as a triple jumper and a long jumper,” said Klepack, noting that Kwafo has committed to Vassar and will compete for its track program. “She has an outstanding season so far, she won the county long jump.”
Junior Cara Carr showed her development, taking second in the 4000, fourth in the 55 hurdles, and helping the 4×400 relay to victory.
“Cara Carr won the triple jump in the county, which was definitely unexpected,” said Klepack.
“She came back and finished second in the 400 where we had her maybe just hopefully getting a place. She improved four seconds. We didn’t expect those eight points so that made a big difference. She got fourth in the hurdles, which was unexpected.”
The Tartans got a lot of points in the high jump with sophomore Audrey Blandford winning at 5’0 and junior Misha Meyer leaping 4’10 to take second.
“Audrey is only a sophomore, she tied a school record the week before and cleared the same height in the state meet,” said Klepack.
“Misha tied the school record the week before and she ended up finishing second. They were really big points for the team.
Field hockey star Caroline Mullen came up big, taking fourth in the 1,600 and fifth in the 3,200.
“We didn’t expect points in the distance event,” said Klepack. “Caroline is a special person, this is the first year that she is running track and she shows a lot of talent. She has a lot of ability; it takes time to build a base. I think she will even get stronger.”
Battling illness, senior Emerlee Simons ended up taking third in the 55 dash and 200.
“We call that a courage story, Emerlee had the flu and couldn’t really train,” said Klepack.
“She wanted to run. She was really depressed the week before but she said. I will come in and run the 55 and 200. Her fever broke 24 hours before the meet. The times weren’t up to her standards but she said she wanted to be there for the team. She is a team person.”
All in all, Klepack is very proud of what his team accomplished as it rose to the occasion under championship pressure.
“We were very pleased, the whole thing was unexpected,” said Klepack.
“When you go into it thinking you are not going to win and they you have people step up to another level, it makes make the win that much more special.”
In reflecting on the title, Klepack pointed to his athletes’ upbeat approach.
“They all came in building off of each other, they had an attitude of applying all of the lessons from the earlier meets,” said Klepack.
“We have been preaching, you are allowed to make mistakes and find solutions. Everything clicked that day for them. I think it was their attitude, they were all pulling for each others. When you get your best in a championship meet, it means you have your game face on.”
Ottomanelli, for her part, believes the Tartans can use the triumph as a springboard as they go for third straight Prep B title at the outdoor championships this spring.
“We kept saying a three-peat is really hard in anything so we were just so excited,” said Ottomanelli.
“We are excited for outdoors. In the indoor season, they don’t count jumps. We have some really good jumpers so that will definitely help us outdoors.”