Not unlike most girls in Mattituck, Kaylee Bergen usually spent the fall season playing soccer. Last spring as an eighth grader, Bergen joined the varsity track team where she ran the 3,000, 1,500 and the 4 x 800 relay.
She enjoyed it so much, when the fall season rolled around, she opted to skip soccer and continue running with the cross country team.
“At the last minute she decided to stick with cross country,” said Mattituck coach Jean Mahoney. “And she’s really talented. Every time she runs she gets better and better.”
In her first year as a cross country runner, Bergen, now a freshman, has quickly blossomed into one of the top runners in the county. At Tuesday’s Division Championship at Sunken Meadow State Park, Bergen finished fourth overall in the team qualifier race for the top finish among any local runners. She ran the 5,000-meter course in 21 minutes, 14.8 seconds.
“It was hard, but it felt good at the end,” Bergen said.
Coming into the race Bergen’s strategy was to find a girl she knew to keep pace with and then try to pass her. The only girls to finish ahead of her where Dana Cebulski of East Hampton (20:31.1), Briana Siele of Eastport-South Manor (20:45.8) and Stephanie Vickers of Westhampton (21:09.7).
Bergen’s finish highlighted a terrific overall performance from Mattituck. The girls finished ninth out of 22 teams in the team qualifier race leading into next week’s State Qualifier race. The Tuckers will compete in Class C for the right to advance to the state meet. Center Moriches, which competed in the team championship race (the top two teams in each league plus four at-large teams), figures to be the biggest challenge for Mattituck.
“It all depends on how we do against Center Moriches,” Mahoney said.
Mattituck is a team loaded with youth, which should make the Tuckers contenders for the next several years. The team had no seniors in Tuesday’s race and one junior. Overall the team has two seniors and three juniors.
Their next top finisher next to Bergen was eighth-grader Audrey Hoeg. She ran 23:33.1. She was followed by sophomore Hallie Kujawski in 23:34.4. Freshman Leah Santacroce (23:37.8) and junior Sara Paparatto (24:31.5) rounded out the scoring.
While the team didn’t have any seniors among its top finishers, it hasn’t been void of leadership. One of the biggest leaders has been sophomore Kyle Freudenberg, Mahoney said, a player all the girls look up to. Freudenberg is a former soccer player as well.
Mattituck finished its dual meet season with a deceptive 2-3 record. With Shelter Island not fielding a team this year, Mattituck bumped up to League VII where it faced Class B teams like Bayport-Blue Point and Hampton Bays. The Tuckers lost close meets to both of those teams as well as to Center Moriches.
Had Mattituck been in League VIII, the Tuckers likely would have gone undefeated in dual meets.
“This has been a very difficult league for us to be in,” Mahoney said.
Without Mattituck in League VIII, Southold benefited. The First Settlers went 4-0 to win the league title and earn a spot in the championship race Tuesday. Southold finished last in the race against the top teams in the county. But as coach Karl Himmelmann said, the real important race comes Nov. 4 when the First Settlers try to win the Class D county title.
“We haven’t been out here to Sunken Meadow for a race in almost a month,” Himmelmann said. “I really wanted them to take today and just get themselves dialed in to whatever they needed to do to have a successful race next week.”
Himmelmann said overall the girls’ times were a little slower, but they should be able to make a jump at the State Qualifier where the team will compete against The Stony Brook School and Ross.
On Tuesday, the competition was a whole lot stiffer.
“It’s a good experience for them,” Himmelmann said. “I like to put them in races where they’re running with top-notched schools because I think it puts them in a different mind-set of raising that bar and raising those expectations.”
Sophomore Colette Steele posted the top time for Southold. She ran 22:32.7 and has been the team’s top runner all season.
She was followed by sophomore Katie Connolly (24:10.2), Shelby Pickerell (24:54.7), Shannon Guyer (27:49.8) and junior Megan Moran (27:50.7).
Shoreham-Wading River won the team qualifier race with 66 points. The Wildcats had all five runners finish in the top 20. Eighth-grader Kaitlyn Ohrtman finished fifth overall in 21:16.8. Senior Audrey Kelly was 10th in 21:45.9. Freshmen Maddy Kelly and Rose Andrews tied for 17th at 22:16.6 and junior Laura Lee rounded out the scoring in 19th at 22:28.4.
The Wildcats will compete at the State Qualifier in Class B. They’ll face tough competition from Bayport-Blue Point, Miller Place and Sayville.
Riverhead closed out its season by competing in the team qualifier race. Senior Gabriele Escallier ran the team’s fastest time in 24:50.6. Freshman Maurinne Sullivan was next in 24:58.2 followed by senior Rachel Harrison-Smith in 24:59.6. The Blue Waves did not qualify for the State Qualifier.