By Jim Sullivan
---- — The best high school track stars from all over the country — including Newburyport High School seniors Joe Santo and Steve Preston — will be descending on the Armory track in New York City this weekend for the New Balance Indoor National Championship meet.
“It’s awesome,” Santo says of his weekend getaway. “I’ve been working very hard for the past four years to be able to race in a national competition like this, so to be able to go down there and race against that type of competition is going to be a lot of fun.”
A distance runner, Santo will be running in the Emerging Elite two-mile race tomorrow and Preston will be throwing in the open shot-put competition Saturday.
“I’m pretty excited,” says Preston. “I don’t feel as if I’m going to do as well as the other athletes because the top guy threw somewhere around 69 feet. That’s well over what I’ve done.”
Preston shouldn’t sell himself short. His best throw set an NHS record at 53.7 feet, which was a CAL meet record as well.
“I’d been working at it a long time, just trying to get at it, get at it,” Preston says of his record-breaking throw. “I saw the throw, I saw it hit the ground and I just knew at that moment that I had had that throw I had been wanting all season.”
Preston says he is grateful for the opportunity to be among the best and is looking forward to the ride down to the Big Apple.
“It should be a fun time just traveling,” says Preston. “I expect, really, an experience out of it and nothing too big.”
A four-year distance runner and captain of the undefeated state champion cross-country team this year, Santo is expecting a little bit more out of the event. Last year Newburyport fielded four runners to the nationals, then-seniors, Keith Conway, Chris Suprin and Andrew Orlando, along with current sophomore, Nick Carleo. Santo sees his and Preston’s arrival on that stage as a natural thing.
“Maybe I have a warped sense of reality, but this always seemed like the next logical step,” Santo says of the nationals. “I spent the last three years watching their progression and I was doing what they were doing, so it’s what I hoped.”
Coach Don Hennigar has watched Santo since his middle school days and has seen marked improvement every year.
“He’s been super, he’s improved tremendously this year,” Hennigar says of Santo. “That’s due to his work ethic, his dedication. He works very, very hard and it paid off for him. He had a great season for cross-country and indoor. He’s just a great kid. He’s from a great family. He’s well-brought up. He’s going to do well for himself.”
With a a 4:36 mile under his belt and a 9:54 duce, Santo would like to see running continue as a big part of his life for as long as it can.
“I just found a love for the sport,” Santo says of running. “It’s something I enjoy, I like the pursuit of running, I like challenging myself, I like pushing my body and seeing how far I can go. This is one of those sports that you will get back what you put into it. There’s no referees, it’s just you against the clock and that’s something I find very compelling.”