For two Tuckers, a quiet track and a lot of hard work

In the middle of the spring sports season, Mattituck High School is usually a buzz of activity after school, with athletes from various sports scattered throughout the campus. But with seasons either over or winding down, things were different on Tuesday. With the exception of one non-team member walking around the school’s cinder track, Chelsea Ficner and Emily Ianno had the place virtually to themselves.

Ficner and Ianno may be the only remaining members of the Mattituck girls track and field team with a meet to train for. At least that appeared to be the case, with the seeding meeting for the upcoming Section XI Individual Championships set for later that night. That explains why the two Tuckers didn’t have any company aside from their coach, Jean Mahoney, and a reporter as they trained for the state qualifying meet that will be held Friday and Saturday at Port Jefferson High School. Both seniors would be seeded for the meet, said Mahoney.

“It’s very tedious, I guess,” Ianno said as she scanned the quiet surroundings. “Look around. There’s no other people out here, no one. It’s just us on this track, me and Chelsea.”

Ianno admitted that part of her wouldn’t mind being somewhere else. She said she had told Mahoney that if she was “blown away” by the competition in the pentathlon in the Suffolk County Division Championships, she wouldn’t compete in the state qualifier at Port Jefferson.

But Ianno’s competitive desire didn’t allow that to happen. Not only wasn’t she “blown away,” but she won. Ianno finished in first place in Division III in the two-day meet that concluded last Wednesday at Connetquot High School. She totaled 2,364 points, shattering her own school record of 2,194 that she set in last year’s state qualifying meet.

Ianno held a 61-point lead over Bayport-Blue Point freshman Bailey Walker going into the final one of the pentathlon’s five events last Wednesday, the 800 meters. Figuring out that she needed to stay within five or six seconds of Walker in the 800 in order to retain her lead in the standings, Ianno did just that. Walker was second in 2 minutes 45.48 seconds, and Ianno was third, only 1.47 seconds behind her.

Ianno said she didn’t realize she had finished as close to Walker as she had in the 800, and it wasn’t until the final standings were later posted that she learned that she had successfully defended her title. “I could not believe it,” she said.

Mahoney could. “I was a little concerned because, again, [the] 800 is not her strength,” the coach said. “It’s certainly not her favorite, but she does what she needs to do.”

Sheer determination saw Ianno through. The sight of Walker breaking into a sprint with about 200 meters to go was all Ianno needed to kick herself into another gear.

“Really, for me, I can push myself to do anything as long as I have some competition,” Ianno said. “If that was me by myself, I would have done three minutes.”

Earlier in the day, Ianno had long jumped 14 feet 6 1/2 inches, good enough for third place. Walker had made things interesting by winning that event at 15-3 1/4.

Ianno stood atop the standings after the first three pentathlon events were held two days earlier. She was first in both the 100-meter hurdles (17.22) and shot put (29-1 3/4), and fourth in the high jump (4-4).

Ianno said that when one of her teachers asked her on Tuesday about the state qualifying meet, it opened her eyes somewhat to how other people find meaning in what she does on the track.

“It just made me realize that I’m not doing this for myself,” she said. “If I was doing this for myself, I’d be at the beach right now; I would not be here. I would not be doing this, but it’s really for the program, for Ms. Mahoney, for all she has done for me. I got to repay her.”

Ficner wasn’t competing under optimum conditions in the division championships. She had a strained Achilles in her left foot, her take-off foot for jumps. In addition, she said her right hamstring didn’t feel right.

“I couldn’t really run,” she said. “I was like: ‘Wow! I never knew that something like this could affect you that much.’ “

Mahoney said: “She’s had a lot of injuries … It’s typical and it’s not typical. You get to the elite status of an athlete, and of course there are injuries. Of course there are issues.”

Regardless, Ficner still tied Babylon senior Antoinette Negron for fifth place in the high jump at 4-8. Ficner was also 10th in the triple jump at 32-3 1/4, and tied for 13th with Port Jefferson junior Sarah Bouquio in the long jump at 14-7 3/4.

“I wasn’t too happy about the triple, which is my best event. I was kind of annoyed about that,” Ficner said. “I didn’t push myself. I’ve kind of been slacking off, which isn’t good. I’ve gotten the senioritis.”

Ficner said she does feel better now, though, as she prepares to compete in the triple jump in the state qualifying meet.

“Everything feels a lot better,” she said. “I’m not there mentally for it. That’s the only thing I’m worried about. I’m not used to having as much competition as I do. I have to stop thinking about it and just do my best.”

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