WESTHAMPTON BEACH INVITATIONAL
It was something of an education for the Mattituck girls cross-country team earlier this season when it picked up some hardware for winning the team title in the Peconic Invitational and then again for taking first place in the sophomore race in the Jim Smith Invitational.
“Who knew that you could win trophies in cross country?” asked Mattituck coach Jean Mahoney.
Mattituck enjoyed a similar experience on Thursday, taking first place in the Westhampton Beach Invitational at Indian Island County Park in Riverhead. The only difference was that this time no trophy was awarded.
“We don’t get a trophy?” one of the Tuckers asked in a disappointed tone.
It’s funny how quickly Mattituck, which is 4-0 and tied with Bayport-Blue Point for first place in Suffolk County League VII, has gotten used to winning.
Mahoney can’t say she has been surprised by her team’s fortunes. She saw good things coming this season. “I knew that I had a lot of talent,” she said. “It’s exciting.”
The excitement continued Thursday. With three Mattituck runners finishing among the top 10 in the Westhampton Beach Invitational, Mattituck totaled 57 points, topping second-place Mount Sinai by 27 points.
Leading the charge in the Meaghan Packard girls varsity race for Mattituck was sophomore Kaylee Bergen, who took sixth place with a time of 20 minutes 11.16 seconds on the 3.1-mile course.
“She’s having a great season,” Mahoney said. “She’s gotten better and better.”
Mattituck junior Tara Gatz was eighth in 20:22.40 and her eighth-grade teammate Melanie Pfenning was 10th in 20:56.68.
Also scoring for Mattituck were freshmen Audrey Hoeg (15th in 21:15.58) and Mia Vasile-Cozzo (18th in 21:29.08).
“Our first five girls came relatively close to each other,” Bergen said. “That’s always good.”
Hampton Bays senior Shanna Heaney took first place in 19:37.88, with second going to East Hampton sophomore Dana Cebulski (19:43.54) and third to Westhampton Beach senior Stephanie Vickers (19:54.86).
But it was Mattituck that made the best overall team showing.
“It really comes down to how hard you push in practice,” Bergen said. “Push until you feel sick. That’s it.”
Mahoney said this is the strongest Mattituck team since the mid-1990s. Mattituck has five runners who have run 3.1 miles in under 22:00: Bergen, Gatz, Hoeg, Pfenning and Vasile-Cozzo. Over the course of the season, Bergen, Gatz and Pfenning have been the team’s leading runners. Depending on the day, depending on the course, each of them has finished ahead of the others.
The Tuckers come from different athletic backgrounds, but they all seem to have brought their competitive spirit.
“They’re very determined to win,” Mahoney said. “They’re very competitive, even among one another. We’ve all agreed, you have to compete with each other, but be friends off the course.”
Bergen said, “There are so many different kinds of people from different cliques, I guess, and they all just mesh together through the pain of running together.”
Mattituck was ranked 18th — the highest-ranking Long Island team — among New York State Class C teams by www.armorytrack.com on Oct. 9. The Tuckers had been ranked as high as 13th.
And the good news for the Tuckers is they are young. The team should be good for some time to come. Sara Paparatto is the only senior among the team’s top seven runners. Natalie Troisi is the team’s only other senior.
Gatz, a first-year cross-country runner, has enjoyed her introduction to the sport. “I love it,” she said. She said her teammates are “competitive but close. We push each other a lot. We run together a lot. We’re trying to push for the states. We all push each other, and we all strive for our best, but we all lean on each other.”
Smiling faces abounded as the triumphant Tuckers celebrated their latest victory and posed for a team photo.
“They’re happy,” Mahoney said. “It brings them up and it makes them feel good, and they’re confident.”