Featured Story

Cross Country: 8th-grader leads Tuckers to 7th straight county title

Payton Maddaloni, a junior in her fourth year on the Mattituck High School girls cross-country team, didn’t know eighth-grader Ava Vaccarella before this season. It didn’t take Maddaloni long, however, to understand how much of an impact the newcomer would have on the Tuckers.

“I saw her run and I was like, ‘This girl is going to do good,’ ” Maddaloni said. “It’s an absolute gift to have her on the team.”

Vaccarella has been the gift that keeps on giving. With her leading the pack, the girls in the bright neon yellow shirts are shining once again.

Mattituck, led by Vaccarella, raced to its seventh straight Suffolk County Class C cross-country championship Friday. Vaccarella and Maddaloni were first and second. Five Tuckers were among the top 10 places in the Class C race of the Section XI Championships at Sunken Meadow State Park.

“Listen, every week, the expectation is to go out and run well, and I think they do that,” coach Chris Robinson said. “They put in the time, they put in the work … Am I surprised? No, not at all.”

If there is a surprise on the team, it would be Vaccarella, a former soccer player in her first cross-country season.

Vaccarella, who had played soccer for about seven years, decided she wanted to try something new, so she came out for Mattituck’s highly successful cross-country team.

“I love it,” she said. “It’s really fun. I was definitely surprised at the things I could do.”

And the Tuckers have been delighted.

“Wherever she came from, I’m glad I found her,” Robinson said. “She’s a special runner, a special worker, a hard worker.”

Maddaloni knows what it’s like to join the team as an eighth-grader. She had done so herself, and can appreciate what Vaccarella has achieved in her brief running career.

“She’s a really hard worker and she loves to push the pace,” Maddaloni said. “I think I’ve seen her out of breath maybe once. She just keeps going.”

That was the case Friday as Vaccarella clocked a personal record on Sunken Meadow’s five-kilometer course with a winning time of 20 minutes and 6.13 seconds. Maddaloni also turned in a so-called pr with 21:13.83.

They were later joined by teammates Kate Schuch (sixth in 22:20.90), Bella Masotti (eighth in 22:31.78), Kylie Conroy (10th in 22:45.22), Abby Rosato (18th in 24:50.73) and Miranda Annunziata (19th in 25:03.79), the team’s only senior.

Mattituck totaled 24 points. Second-place Center Moriches had 54.

Mattituck will compete as a team in Saturday’s state meet, which will be held at Sunken Meadow for the first time in 10 years. The home-course advantage means the Tuckers will be able to sleep in their own beds Friday night, not have to endure a long bus ride upstate and have full knowledge of the course.

“I’ve run on this course probably over 50 times,” Maddaloni said. “I feel this year is more special because it’s on our home turf.”

Southold junior Olivia Lynch had two goals for the sectional meet: win the Class D championship and set a school record for the course.

Lynch did both, winning the Class D race in 21:14.85. That bettered the previous Southold mark of 21:34, set by Ivy Croteau in 2010, according to coach Karl Himmelmann.

“She was a good 30 seconds faster than she was last week,” Himmelmann said. “She’s poised to have one of the best finishes by a Southold girl at the state meet.”

Third state meet for Daddona. Southold senior Michael Daddona qualified for his third state meet and will be joined in Saturday’s big Class D race by four teammates —freshman Isaiah Mraz, senior Michael Chacon, senior Patrick Connolly and junior Jacob Boivin. Mattituck senior Christian Demchak qualified for the Class C state race.

Mraz finished fifth in 19:30.11 in Class D, which Shelter Island junior Kal Lewis, the defending state champion, won in 17:23.26. Daddona was seventh in 20:11.41, Chacon ninth in 20:40.78, Connolly 10th in 20:47.18 and Boivin 12th in 22:23.90. Rounding out the field for Southold were Andrew Clausen (13th in 22:31.58) and Anakin Mignone (14th in 23:12.02).

Demchak didn’t have his best day, but it was good enough to earn a ticket to the state meet. He came in third in 18:22.69. His best time on the course is 17:35, said coach Mike Jablonski.

Port Jefferson sophomore Brian Veit won the Class C race in 17:50.59.

Jablonski said Demchak told him he had stepped on another runner’s foot and rolled his ankle during the race.

“He had a bad race,” the coach said. “I’m hoping he gets top 20 in Class C. I’m just hoping he does well. He put in the effort. I hope he reaps the rewards.”

Mattituck’s Eric Palencia was 15th in 20:13.49.

The state meet returning to Sunken Meadow is a nice carrot at the end of the stick for Long Island’s runners.

“That race is going to have a different level of competition that I hope will inspire them to finish on a season-best,” Himmelmann, who also coaches Southold’s boys team, said. “We have one of the toughest cross-country courses in the state, so I think it’s definitely going to be an advantage for our kids.”

[email protected]

Photo caption: The happy Mattituck Tuckers raised their seventh straight Suffolk County Class C championship plaque Friday at Sunken Meadow State Park. (Credit: courtesy photo)