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Girls Cross-Country Preview: Tuckers running for fifth straight Suffolk title

Mattituck runner Melanie Pfennig 110615

This is the year to drive for five, and yet the Mattituck High School girls cross-country team isn’t focusing on that just yet. The Tuckers don’t dwell on the past, which may partially explain their success.

Mattituck (5-1 last year) won its fourth straight Suffolk County Class C team title last year and with it came the right to compete as a team in the state championships.

“It is nice, but we don’t even talk about it,” coach Julie Milliman said of the county title run. “Every year is a new year.”

This new year looks promising, indeed. Milliman couldn’t identify a major difference between last year’s team and this year’s crew, which includes five of the 2015 team’s top seven runners.

Leading the pack is senior Melanie Pfennig, who is in her fifth year on the team. Pfennig was the winner of the Suffolk Class C race last year in 20 minutes, 22.65 seconds on Sunken Meadow State Park’s five-kilometer course. Seven Tuckers were among the top 12 finishers. In the state meet, Pfennig was ninth in 19:36.9 at Monroe-Woodbury High School. Mattituck ranked seventh in the team scoring.

“She’s just a worker,” Milliman said. “I can’t think of one day in five years that she hasn’t come to practice and worked her hardest. She sets a positive tone for the rest of the team. She just keeps getting better. There hasn’t been a year where she hasn’t, so I can’t imagine her not getting faster this year.”

Following in Pfennig’s footsteps, literally and figuratively, is Payton Maddaloni, who impressed in her first varsity season last year as an eighth-grader. Maddaloni was fourth in the county meet in 21:54.79 and 56th in the state meet in 21:44.9.

“She’s literally on [Pfennig’s] heels already, and that’s just good for everybody,” Milliman said. “She doesn’t really know her own strength yet as a runner. She’ll go out guns blazing and never quit and she ends up finishing races 20 seconds behind Mel.”

Pfennig and Maddaloni, both All-League runners, are joined by senior Sascha Rosin, junior Meg Dinizio and sophomore Maddie Schmidt, who all ran in the state meet. Eighth-grader Kylie Conroy is also expected to be a scorer.

So, what are the chances of five county crowns in a row?

“We’ve set some high goals for ourselves and hopefully we can achieve them,” Milliman said, “but I like what I see so far.”

Southold (1-5) takes only five runners into the season, but it’s what coach Karl Himmelmann sees in them that he finds encouraging.

“They’re small in numbers, but are huge in dedication,” he said. “They are a wonderful group of girls. They work very, very hard.”

Senior Julia McAllister, freshman Emily Newman and senior Jheimy Ugana are returners. The two newcomers are junior Ashley Hilary and senior Julia Mele. Greenport senior Emily Villareal will run with the team as an independent.

“I can’t say enough about what a dedicated and supportive group of girls they are,” Himmelmann said. “It’s a wonderful team to be able to coach.”

Photo caption: Mattituck junior Melanie Pfennig, pictured last November. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk, file)

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