Where was Melanie Pfennig?
That was the question at the start of a recent practice for the Mattituck High School girls cross-country team. Then, almost as soon as the question was asked, there she was, walking toward the track to join her teammates.
Coach Julie Milliman noted the irony, saying, “As fast as she is, she’s always like the last one here because she’s so busy doing other things.”
Pfennig may be late to practice from time to time, but she’s often first at the finish line.
The senior has been busy doing her thing for the Tuckers, just as she has ever since she joined the team as an eighth-grader.
“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.”
Pfennig is the sole remaining runner from the Mattituck team that won the first of four straight Suffolk County Class C championships. Being a senior, this is her final go-around in Mattituck blue and gold.
“It’s very emotional,” Pfennig said. “I try not to think about it.”
With five of its top seven runners from last year back, Mattituck looks well-positioned for a fifth straight county crown. After going 5-1 last year, the Tuckers are currently 4-0 in League VII.
Pfennig was the Suffolk Class C individual champion last year, winning in 20 minutes, 22.65 seconds at Sunken Meadow State Park’s demanding 3.1-mile course. She went on to take ninth place in the state meet at Monroe-Woodbury High School in 19:36.9.
“Last season I didn’t really know what to expect,” she said. “I just kind of wanted to do better than I did previous seasons, and it actually turned out to be a very good season. So, I’m waiting to do better and cap that.”
Pfennig hasn’t disappointed. She has won all the league meets she has run in. In the Peconic Invitational at Red Creek Park in Hampton Bays, she took second place in 20:44. Her 20:52 in the Suffolk Coaches Invitational at Sunken Meadow State Park brought her 10th place.
Pfennig doesn’t have to look far for competition to keep her on her toes. Every day in practice she has teammate Payton Maddaloni pushing her. Like Pfennig, Maddaloni was an All-League runner last year as an eighth-grader. Maddaloni finished fourth in the county meet (21:54.79) and 56th in the state meet (21:44.9).
“She’ll go out guns blazing and never quit and she ends up finishing races 20 seconds behind Mel,” said Milliman.
Pfennig said: “We push each other during workouts. She’s very energetic and lively and I think we work well together.”
Is Maddaloni a future Pfennig?
“I don’t like to compare them to each other because they’re a different type of runner, but she’s absolutely going to be a great runner,” Milliman said of Maddaloni.
Pfennig said she would like to run in college although she hasn’t selected one yet. In the meantime, she wants to close out her senior season strong.
“I would just like to see all the hard work pay off and just to see the team work hard and all of us girls have one of the best seasons we ever had,” she said. “I’m really happy to end my senior year with a great group of girls.”
Photo caption: Melanie Pfennig is the only team member to have run for all of Mattituck’s county champion teams the past four years. (Credit: Bob Liepa)