It began in October 2007, when many of the current runners on the North Shore girls cross country team weren’t even born yet.
It has endured through four different U.S. Presidents, two different decades, a global pandemic, and many more world events.
The Streak isn’t talked about much on the hills and roads around North Shore; winning just comes along with hard work and fun, and the coach leading the group doesn’t like to put pressure on his squad with numbers.
But when Sophia Marchiolli got her copy of the North Shore schedule for 2023, she saw a special notation on the meet for Sept. 11: Number 200.
As in, if the Vikings won, it would be the 200th consecutive victory for this juggernaut of a program.
“We knew we were winning and had a big number going, but until we saw “200” it didn’t really hit me,” Marchiolli said. “We were all very excited and a little nervous on Monday.”
Marchiolli and her fellow harriers needn’t have worried; they did what they always do. North Shore defeated Locust Valley and Academy Charter school in a Nassau Conference IV meet on Sept. 11, capturing their 200th straight dual meet win.
Their last loss was Oct. 15, 2007 against Valley Stream South.
There was no giant celebration or throwing Coach Neal Levy up in the air on Sept. 11; there was just happy talk on the bus ride home, sandwiched around doing lots and lots of homework.
“It’s just been so, so cool to be a part of,” said sophomore Joanna Kenny. “To know how many people have helped us get to (200), it’s really special.”
What accounts for the incredible run of success (pun intended)? Well, it starts with Levy, who was a JV soccer coach at North Shore for two years starting in 2004, and coached a combined girls and boys cross country team for a few years. He said he asked if he could start a girls team, and his athletics director said sure, if you can get enough kids to come out for it.
“We started with one girl on the team,” Levy recalled. “And then little by little we got more kids interested. You start showing attention to kids who don’t get a lot of attention, and their confidence grows, and they start to have success.”
The Vikings won their first conference title in 2006, and have since amassed 16 county championships, along with two New York State championships, in 2010 and 2011. They’ve also finished in the Top 10 of the prestigious Nike Cross-Nationals twice, in ’10 and ’11.
What’s the secret to Levy’s success? Finding passion, and harnessing good raw materials.
“I look for the most passionate kid who comes through the door, not necessarily the most talented,” Levy said. They come for one day and train, and that leads to a week, to a month, to a year.”
“Ninety percent of the kids I get have either never run before, or are doing it for social opportunities, or because their parents made them do it,” Levy added. “Everyone is encouraged and supported, and all of these girls have athletic ability, they just need to be shown how to train properly.”
Training isn’t easy for North Shore runners; Marchiolli estimated they run six days a week, around 35-40 miles per week, but that the camaraderie with teammates “makes it seem fun, not like work.”
One other feature that helps keep training fun is Levy invites Vikings alumni to run and train with the team, and they educate the younger runners about the legacy they’re upholding.
“It’s so cool that they come back and tell us about college and their (adult) lives, and how running is still important to them,” Kenny said. “And they will sometimes crush us in a workout, because they’re still in great shape.”
Levy said there have been three times, by his count, that the streak almost ended; a one point win here, a two-point win there.
Both the runners and Levy say the focus is never on the streak, itself, but older runners remind younger ones about the legacy they’re upholding, and there’s a lot of pride on that.
“The environment is so supportive and we’re all just focused on making each other better; our training partner, our whole team is working to be better,” Marchiolli said. “We know how many great runners have come before us and nobody wants to let them down.”
The streak will, of course, end one day, even as it is now believed to be the longest in the sport in Long Island history. But North Shore athletics director Don Lang knows the acclaim this team has brought to the school is a source of pride for all in the community.
“Everyone in school knows how good they are, and are so proud that they have done this,” Lang said. “These kids come in, work hard, and get better, and that’s a great tribute to the coach and to the kids themselves.”