This was it, Ava Vaccarella’s final chance to qualify for this year’s New York State track and field championships in the 3,000 meters, and the Mattituck High School eighth-grader was nowhere to be found.
Following a special announcement calling for her over the public address system at Comsewogue High School’s Tom Cassese Athletic Field, Vaccarella finally reported and made the march toward the starting line with the other competitors.
“I almost missed my race,” she later explained. “I guess I didn’t hear them, and then I ran over and got here on time.”
It’s a good thing, too, because Vaccarella made the most of the opportunity. Not only did she run a personal-record time at the Section XI state qualifier Friday, but she also earned an invitation to her first state meet.
“I’m super excited,” she said. “All the girls on the team were saying [competing in the state meet is] great, and I’m just so excited.”
Vaccarella said she needed to beat 10 minutes, 24 seconds in order to satisfy the qualifying standard. She clocked 10:22.31, bringing her third place. Mount Sinai junior Sarah Connelly blew away the field in 9:56.47. Bay Shore junior Roshni Singh was second in 10:20.06.
“She hung with Sarah for a good part of that race, probably more than half that race, which helps,” Mattituck coach Chris Robinson said. “Any time you’re racing one of the best in the state, how can that not help?”
Vaccarella stayed near the front for much of the race on the 400-meter track. She was third through the first four laps before falling back to sixth on the Lap 5 as the tight lead pack loosened up.
“In the past she would kind of struggle in those later laps, but she had more in the tank,” Robinson said. “And I told her before the race, I said, ‘It’s OK to be uncomfortable when you’re running. Trust your training and keep going.’ She did that.”
The persistent Vaccarella worked her way back to the third position on Lap 6. After Sachem East senior Jenna Newman passed her for third, Vaccarella even found the energy down the final stretch to retake third from Newman.
“I just needed to beat that time,” said Vaccarella, who was mobbed afterward by teammates offering their congratulations. “I had to move on to the states.”
Robinson sounded as excited, if not more so, than Vaccarella. Asked for his assessment of Vaccarella’s race, Robinson said: “That girl works harder than anybody I’ve coached. I mean, I’ve coached a lot of great runners, and she’s up there. She did a tremendous job. Today was a very gutsy performance on her part. She kind of lost a couple of laps but was able to really pull it in at the end. She struggled in the past at the end of her 3,000, but that [final lap] was her best lap of the day, which just shows us how much growth she’s made and how she understands the race a little better. The competition always helps, but she stepped up to the challenge and as an eighth-grader, I mean, you can’t really say enough.”
Vaccarella will have company at the state meet, which will be run June 7 and 8 at Middletown High School.
Bella Masotti ran personal-record times in both the preliminaries of the 100 (12.94) and 200 (25.88). The sophomore qualified for the state meet in both events and Saturday’s 200 final, with the fifth-fastest time of the day.
Mattituck will send a 4×100 relay team to the state meet for a fourth consecutive year. The foursome of Nikki Searles, Emily Nicholson, Miranda Annunziata and Masotti clocked 50.49 in the preliminaries.
Southold/Greenport senior Emily Russell held third place in the pentathlon with 1,653 points through three events. Northport senior Sydnie Rohme (1,939) and Sachem East senior Jasmine Ahmed (1,655) were ahead of her in the 15-girl field. Russell, who won the Division III pentathlon title a week earlier, was first in the shot put (35 feet, 5 1/4 inches), tied for first in the high jump (5-1/2) and third in the 100 hurdles (18.84). The pentathlon is to conclude Saturday with the long jump and 800.
Vaccarella, who will run the 1,500 Saturday on the second and final day of the meet, was asked how big of an achievement this was for her.
Her answer: “It’s at the top right now.”
Photo caption: Miranda Annunziata hugs Ava Vaccarella after the Mattituck eighth-grader qualified for the state meet in the 3,000 meters. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)