Julie Milliman apparently isn’t one to dwell on the past, even the recent past, which has to conjure happy memories for her. Last year, her first as coach of the Mattituck High School girls cross-country team, Milliman saw her team pull off the triple crown. The Tuckers won the League VII title (they were co-champions with Bishop McGann-Mercy with a 4-1 record) to go with Division IV and Suffolk County titles. It was their third straight county crown.
All good stuff, but Milliman, on guard against complacency, sounded reticent to talk about it. When last season’s success was brought up, she said: “I don’t like to think like that. Instead of focusing on what we did last year, I’d like to focus on what we would like to do this year.”
What the Tuckers do this year, of course, remains to be seen. They have six of their top seven runners from last year back, but then again, Mattituck’s competitors in League VII, like McGann-Mercy and Center Moriches, have good runners, too. “I think it’s going to kind of be a tossup for how we do this year,” said Milliman.
The Tuckers are glad they have Melanie Pfennig on their side. The junior made the all-county third team and helps the Tuckers deal with the loss of Kaylee Bergen (Fairfield College).
Pfennig, who was Mattituck’s top runner in 2014, finished second in the county championships to Center Moriches senior Ryleigh Donegan at Sunken Meadow State Park in 20 minutes 31.41 seconds.
On a treacherous 3.1-mile course at SUNY/Canton in the state meet, Pfennig was the top Mattituck finisher in the Class C race, coming in 34th in 20:22.1.
Milliman called Pfennig “a coach’s dream. She works hard. She smiles. She inspires the other girls around her.”
Another quality runner for the Tuckers is Audrey Hoeg, an all-league senior who has already run in four state meets. The other top returning runners are senior Mia Vasile-Cozzo, sophomore Megan Dinizio and juniors Sascha Rosin and Katie Stumpf.
Others in the mix are eighth graders Payton Maddaloni and Charlotte Kiel, freshmen Maddie Schmidt, Olivia Schutte, Abby Heffernan and Maddie Shannon, and juniors Sara Kaypak and Emily Sidor.
The underclassmen bring enthusiasm and raw energy while the older runners bring experience.
“I couldn’t ask for a better group of girls and I couldn’t ask for them to work harder for me in practice, so I’m very optimistic about this season,” Milliman said. She continued: “I’m always excited for a [new] season, but I just have a good feeling for this group of girls. They push each other and they encourage each other and it’s just fun to be a part of.”
Milliman knows there are no shortcuts to Monroe Woodbury High School, where the state meet will be run on Nov. 14. Asked what will be the key to the season, she answered, “Really just how hard they work in practice, how hard they push each other and how hard they push themselves in practice.”
The past couple of years have been a rebuilding period for Southold (2-4 in League VIII), so any positive signs are appreciated. In dual meets, the top five runners for a team score, and its sixth runner can be used as a tiebreaker. This season, for the first time in three years, the First Settlers have six runners to score for them, two more runners than they started last season with.
That’s a plus.
Katie Hunstein, a senior, and juniors Julia McAllister and Jheimy Uguna return. Hunstein won the team’s coach’s award last year.
Another plus for the First Settlers is the addition of senior Angie Bucci, a former tennis player who converted to cross country for the fall season. She ran track and field last spring.
“The addition of Angie Bucci is really huge,” said coach Karl Himmelmann.
A pair of eighth graders, Kathryn Kilcommons and Emily Newmann, are also part of the plan.
Himmelmann has watched the team run in 6:30 a.m. practices in the early-morning fog without complaint.
“Their attitude is outstanding this far,” he said. “I think there’s a bright future for Southold.”
Photo Caption: Mattituck’s top runner from last year, Melanie Pfennig, returns for her junior season. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk, file)