The youngest runner on the Mattituck High School girls cross-country team just happens to be the fastest. It’s a little unusual, but it’s also a testament to Ava Vaccarella’s ability.
Personal records seem to be a weekly occurrence for the eighth-grader, so perhaps it was to be expected when Vaccarella ran her fastest time ever at Sunken Meadow State Park Saturday. The fact that she did so in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Championships just made it that much sweeter.
Vaccarella, a converted soccer player in her first year in the sport, completed the five-kilometer course in 19 minutes and 57.8 seconds, bringing her eighth place in Class C. Clinton senior Eva Borton won in 18:24.3.
“My goal was to do the best that I can and work as hard as I can because it’s states,” Vaccarella said. “It’s pretty cool that the [personal records] keep coming.”
Mattituck coach Chris Robinson certainly thinks so. “She continues to do amazing things each time she races,” he said. “She just keeps working hard and getting better.”
Vaccarella led Mattituck, which qualified for the meet as a team for a seventh successive year, to a fifth-place finish among 11 Class C teams with 150 points. Mattituck was also fifth in 2016, its best showing in the state meet since it came in fourth in 2012. Greenwich was first with 38.
The next Mattituck finisher was junior Payton Maddaloni, who came in 38th in 21:05.9 seconds, the fastest she has ever run on the course.
“I really wanted to get under 21 [minutes], but I felt really good,” Maddaloni said afterward. “I really felt I did give it my all because at the end I was on my hands and knees.”
The five other Tuckers who competed were sophomore Bella Masotti (56th in 21:34.1), freshman Kate Schuch (84th in 22:12.1), sophomore Kylie Conroy (92nd in 22:38.2), senior Miranda Annunziata (116th in 23:53.0) and sophomore Abby Rosato (120th in 24:30.2).
“Everyone ran well,” Robinson said. “It was a great day.”
It was the first time in almost exactly 10 years that the state meet had returned to Sunken Meadow, widely regarded as one of the toughest courses in New York. In addition to the challenges presented by Snake Hill and famed Cardiac Hill, runners had to deal with standing water left in areas from heavy rain the night before, churned up muddy ground and strong wind gusts that blew over wooden barriers and tents.
“It was kind of difficult navigating through that,” said Vaccarella.
Southold junior Olivia Lynch made her way through somewhat treacherous conditions at times to break her own school record for the course and become the first Southold girl to crack the top 20 in a state meet, according to coach Karl Himmelmann. Lynch was 18th in Class D in 20:46.5 That was a significant improvement from her previous school mark of 21:14.85 that she set when she won the Class D title at the Section XI Championships Nov. 2.
“This is my season of firsts,” a happy Lynch told reporters afterward. “It’s unbelievable.”
And Lynch wasn’t the only one happy about her performance. Himmelmann sounded as if he was on cloud nine.
“I’ve had a lot of really good cross-country coaching days,” he said. “This was one of the best.”
Himmelmann called Lynch “one of the finest cross-country runners I ever coached. Her progression throughout the course of the season was the best I’ve ever seen.” He said Lynch “executed a perfect race.”
Lynch, competing in her second straight state meet, said she knew what she was getting into. At one point in the race when she was hurting the most, she said, she had a comforting thought. “That was when I knew I was doing something right,” she said.
Tully sophomore Brooke Rauber pulled off a three-peat, winning the race in 17:52.4.
As tough as Sunken Meadow is, it holds a special place in the hearts of some runners.
“I actually love it,” Maddaloni said. “I look at it as a challenge. Once you get over the hump of Cardiac, I know I can kick it right there.”
Photo caption: Mattituck eighth-grader Ava Vaccarella was the eighth runner to cross the finish line in the Class D race at the state championships Saturday at Sunken Meadow State Park. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)