One can imagine what Karl Himmelmann’s reaction was when the coach learned this past spring that the fastest runner on his Southold girls cross-country team, Colette Steele, was moving to Mattituck and would no longer be on his team.
It should be mentioned that it was Steele who led the First Settlers to a 5-0 dual-meet record and the Suffolk County League VIII title last year. And it was Steele who turned in her best time ever at Sunken Meadow State Park’s 3.1-mile course — 21 minutes 46.00 seconds — to finish in second place and help bring Southold the Class D crown in the Section XI Championships.
And now the all-league junior is gone.
Though disappointed, Himmelmann keeps things in perspective. “Certainly she was a great part for our team,” he said. “Obviously she is a strong runner. Certainly I was disappointed. But our team is not built on one person. There are going to be things that you can’t control. Kids are going to move, kids get hurt.”
On the plus side, Steele’s departure aside, Southold has all of its other runners back. Among them are three all-league performers — senior Shelby Pickerell (fifth in the county meet in 23:57.50), junior Katie Connolly (sixth in the county meet in 24:24.80) and junior Shannon Guyer (ninth in the county meet in 25:22.00). Another returner, senior Megan Moran, was 11th in the county meet in 27:06.60.
Savannah Calderale, a junior, and Caitlyn Cassidy, a senior, are also varsity veterans. New to the team are junior Justine Kundmueller and senior Katie Saporita.
Among the 11 Class D teams that competed in last year’s state meet, Southold was seventh.
“The girls had an amazing season last year,” Himmelmann said. “They were each individually very strong. Day in and day out, I could always count on them to do whatever I asked of them in practice.”
Comparing this year’s team with last year’s version, the third-year coach said: “All the same qualities of last year’s team, I see them this year. They’re pushing each other. Success sometimes builds on success. I think they see from the end of last year the results of their hard work.”
Mattituck coach Jean Mahoney has a lot to feel good about, and not just because Colette Steele has joined the Tuckers. Mahoney believes this just may be the best Mattituck team she has coached.
“This year I have depth and talent, and I’m just really excited,” Mahoney said. “As long as they stay healthy, we’re going to do great.”
Although Steele is an undoubted talent, she has a stress fracture in her foot, and Mahoney doesn’t know when the transfer will be running again.
But Mattituck can count on sophomore Kaylee Bergen and freshman Audrey Hoeg, who last year in their first cross-country season both made the all-league team and ran in the state meet. Bergen was second in the county championships at Sunken Meadow State Park in 20:37.00, clipping 37 seconds off her previous best time on the course. Hoeg was fifth in 22:03.80.
Also back from last year’s team are senior Sara Paparatto, junior Hallie Kujawski and sophomore Leah Santacroce. Joining the team are freshman Taylor Berkoski, freshman Christina Hatzinikolau, junior Tara Gatz, freshman Brianna Perino, junior Samantha Perino, eighth-grader Melanie Pfenning, freshman Mia Vasile-Cozzo, sophomore Sarah Sheppard and junior Natalie Troisi.
Mahoney said Gatz, a former tennis player, is someone to look out for. “She not only pushes herself, she pushes the boys team and she pushes my team,” said the coach.
Then again, Mattituck may be a team to look out for. Mahoney raves about the Tuckers’ work ethic and dedication. Perhaps the Tuckers will contend for the League VII title along with Bayport-Blue Point and Hampton Bays.
“It’s exciting knowing how much these girls want to win,” Mahoney said. “It’s going to be an amazing season. This year’s athletes are very competitive. They push each other and they are really determined to go to the states.”