Ava Vaccarella seemingly came out of nowhere last year as an eighth-grader to become the top runner on an already strong Mattituck High School girls cross-country team. She was the youngest runner on the team — and the fastest.
That speed brought her eighth place in Class C in the state meet at Sunken Meadow State Park, where she completed the five-kilometer course in 19 minutes and 57.8 seconds. Earlier, at the Section XI Championships, she had taken first place on the same course in 20:06.13.
With the All-County Vaccarella leading the way, the defending League VII champion Tuckers (6-0) won a third straight Suffolk County Division IV title, seventh successive county crown and with it a seventh straight team appearance in the state meet. Since 2012, Mattituck has a 34-4 record in league meets.
“They know the history,” second-year coach Chris Robinson said. “They know what’s been done before. That’s added pressure a little bit, but that’s pressure they accept and they’re excited about.”
Here’s something the Tuckers weren’t too excited about. For about six weeks over the summer, Vaccarella had her foot in a walking boot, the result of a “stress reaction” from running, said Robinson. “It’s a common injury for runners. She has to work through some of the soreness.”
Now Vaccarella is working her way back into form.
“It’s never good to hear that your best runner got hurt,” Robinson said. “I know the character she is and I know the character of her parents, so I was confident it was a minor setback.”
Mattituck returns it top five scorers in Vaccarella and four All-Division runners — senior Payton Maddaloni (“Payton looks the best I’ve seen her in five years,” said Robinson), junior Kylie Conroy, junior Bella Masotti and sophomore Kate Schuch. In addition, the Tuckers have sophomore Emily Nicholson and juniors Abby Rosato and Emma Reidy.
“My expectations are high,” Robinson said. “We had a great finish last year. Being able to have our top five back, I think they are self-motivated to do even better than they did last year … Every day they’re challenging each other, and that’s something you can’t coach.”
Southold coach Karl Himmelmann remembers vividly the look on Olivia Lynch’s face last year after she broke her own school record for Sunken Meadow and became the first Southold girl to crack the top 20 in a state meet. “It was priceless,” he said.
Lynch was 18th in Class D at her second state meet in 20:46.5. The All-State senior was also the Class D champion at the Section XI Championships.
As is her way, Lynch’s best running came in the big postseason meets.
“That’s one of the hardest things to do as a runner, to put together a plan where you’re peaking at the right time,” Himmelmann said. “That plan came along quite nicely last year. She was at her strongest when she needed to be at her strongest.”
Along with Lynch, Southold (1-4) has three other returning runners — junior Kelly McHugh, sophomore Evelyn Helinski and sophomore Annie Antonucci. The team has one newcomer, freshman Francesca Lynch, Olivia’s sister.
“They each see their own potential as runners, and they are incredibly positive,” Himmelmann said. “They don’t give up.”
Photo caption: Mattituck’s Ava Vaccarella, nearing the finish line at last year’s state championships where she took eighth place in Class C, is bouncing back from a foot injury. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk, file)