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Winter Track: Gaffga found her niche in long jump

Winter track — at a small school especially — can draw an odd assortment of athletes from other sports. Call them hybrids.

Jaime Gaffga would qualify as one of those. A volleyball and softball player, Gaffga had never competed in track and field before, but the Mattituck senior saw this indoor season as an opportunity to work on her fitness before softball practices start.

Then, a funny thing happened on the way through this indoor season: She found she really enjoyed track.

“I wanted to get back into shape for my spring sport, softball, and then I ended up falling in love with it,” she said. “I loved it. It was great. I loved all the girls. I loved working out every day.”

And she loved that, in what in all likelihood was the final meet of her brief track career, she went out on a positive note.

Gaffga didn’t reach the finals of the long jump in the Section XI small school team championships last Thursday, but she did fly further than she ever had before. Her 15 feet, 10 inches was good for eighth place among 23 long jumpers at Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood. That bettered Gaffga’s previous best of 15-8 1/2. Half Hollow Hills West senior Mia Abulencia was first at 17-11.

“I’m very happy,” Gaffga said of her personal record, known in track shorthand as a pr. “It’s like relieving that I did pr for my last meet. This is my first year ever doing it, so the fact that I went this far is an incredible feeling.”

She continued, “I was very nervous, but then once I got into the swing of it, it just felt like every other meet and I just focused on myself and how far I was going.”

Before entering the track world, Gaffga recalls hearing track people shoot out numbers when talking about different events and having no idea what those numbers meant. Now, those track times and distances have a meaning to her since she knows what is involved in putting up those numbers.

The first order of business for Gaffga after coming out for the track team was finding an event.

“I didn’t really know her that well,” Mattituck coach Chris Robinson said. “I threw her in the high jump a little bit. I had her run the 55 [meters]. None of those were really her niche. Then I remember her kind of doing some jumps with everybody to see who could do it, and she just kind of naturally was entering into the pit like she’s done it before, so that kind of just was her niche and we kept her there, and she kept getting better and better and better.”

Gaffga said she has strong legs from playing volleyball and serving as a catcher and centerfielder in softball, so the long jump was a good fit for her.

An event was found.

“It wasn’t too hard to pick up the basics of jumping into the pit and running and hitting my mark,” she said, “but being able to get down the little things and get those few extra inches was the hard part.”

Robinson said he is proud of how far Gaffga has come.

“She’s amazing,” he said. “She’s the first one down in the weight room, the last one to leave. She’s been working hard, but I noticed that right away.

“It was just a pleasure to be able to coach her and get to know her a little bit because I had really no kind of connection to her until this year, but she’s a tremendous athlete, a great person, genuine and just a hard worker. I mean, those are the kind of girls you want on the team.”

Gaffga saw her winter track experience as a win-win for her.

“I did a lot better than I expected,” she said. “I came in just thinking I was going to run a little bit and make some friends and then play softball, but I ended up excelling at something I never thought I’d ever do.”

Robinson said he has no problem with athletes such as Gaffga using winter track to help them prepare for other sports. At the same time, that doesn’t mean he will not be sorry to see her leave.

He said, “I wish her the best of luck in softball, even though I have a hard time saying that.”

Corazzini Sixth in Walk. Greenport/Southold senior Blayr Corazzini turned in a personal-best time of 8 minutes, 53.10 seconds to finish sixth in the 1,500-meter race walk.

Kahn Seventh in 1,600. Greenport/Southold junior Jacob Kahn was seventh in the 1,600 meters in 4:46.38 in the Section XI boys small schools team championships Friday in Brentwood. Mattituck sophomore Joshua Starzee tied Shoreham-Wading River senior Calvin Schmalzle for eighth in the high jump. They both cleared 5-6. Mattituck junior Christian Demchak took ninth in the 3,200 in 10:43.08.

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Photo caption: Mattituck senior long jumper Jaime Gaffga said she surpassed her expectations in her first and only track and field season. (Credit: Bob Liepa)