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Boys Cross Country: Mattituck rookie headed to states

Trevor Zappulla, a Mattituck High School freshman who had played soccer since he was in kindergarten, made a sports switch this fall, taking up cross country for the first time. “I thought I would do better in cross country,” he explained.

Well, the results speak for themselves.

Zappulla extended his first cross-country season by qualifying for the state meet. He finished seventh in Class C — the only freshman among the top 18 — Friday in the Section XI Championships at Sunken Meadow State Park. Not bad for a rookie.

“I was nervous the week before about this race … I just went out and tried to push myself,” said Zappulla, who turned in a time of 18 minutes, 25.89 seconds on the 5,000-meter course.

Zappulla said there was pressure, “a lot of pressure, but once I felt I was ahead of the pack, I kind of felt a relief that I did it.”

Five of the first six finishers were from Class C champion Port Jefferson, including junior Brian Veit, who won in 17:16.71. Zappulla finished close behind Port Jefferson’s Owen Okst (18:24.58).

Two other Mattituck runners — junior Luke Altman (10th place in 18:49.19) and senior Eric Palencia (11th in 18:51.48) — qualified for the state meet as well. Zappulla, Altman and Palencia all ran their fastest times at Sunken Meadow despite it being a bitterly cold, windy day. The temperature at the start of the meet was 37 degrees, but it dropped and felt colder because of the wind.

The wintry conditions didn’t seem to bother Zappulla at all, though. “It wasn’t a bad day,” he said. “I thought it was going to be a lot worse. I like it a little cold.”

Mattituck coach Mike Jablonski played down the affects of the weather. “Besides the wind being strong, the temperature is fine for runners,” he said. “Actually, it can help them in the long term, so besides the heavy winds, it’s not too bad.”

And perhaps good preparation for what the state qualifiers will face in the state meet Saturday at SUNY/Plattsburgh, where a high of 24 degrees is forecast.

Mattituck sophomore Luke Woods was 15th in 19:59.69. The others who crossed the finish line for the Tuckers were three freshmen — Jack Hutchinson (19th in 20:47.76), Zappulla’s twin brother, Marc Zappulla (21st in 21:02.64), and Lexington Horton (27th in 22:25.79).

“The whole team peaked at the right time,” said Jablonski, whose team finished second to Port Jefferson (17 points) with 62 points. “Like I said at the beginning of the season, we have a lot of good, young talent, and Trevor really is finding his pace right now. I’m happy for him.”

Trevor Zappulla said he enjoys his new sport.

“I’m getting better every race, figuring how fast I can push myself and how [far] I can go,” he said. “It’s like a mental game, how good you think you’re going to do.”

Isaiah Mraz of Southold finished second in Class D. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)

Mraz returning to states. Southold’s Isaiah Mraz is no fan of the cold weather, but he couldn’t complain about the results.

“I hate running in the cold,” he said. “It gets bad when it gets below 40 [degrees] for me. Like 45, that’s ideal for me. That’s when I run my best times. Wind never helps. Wind in any way is always terrible. It messes with me.”

Not enough, though, to prevent Mraz from qualifying for his second straight state meet Saturday at SUNY/Plattsburgh. The sophomore, who took second place in Friday’s Section XI Class D race, will have company in Plattsburgh. Four of his teammates will join him: eighth-grader Flynn Klipstein, freshman Jack Goscinski, senior James Hoyt and freshman Robert Doering.

“Isaiah has a lot of natural talent and he is driven by the fact that he likes to be the best,” Southold coach Karl Himmelmann said. “He likes to be the best at what he does.”

As expected, Shelter Island senior Kal Lewis blew away the field, winning in 16:40.82 to lead the Indians (24 points) to the team title. Mraz was second in 18:41.09, Klipstein fifth in 19:30.53, Goscinski seventh in 19:57.38, Hoyt eighth in 20:03.41 and Doering ninth in 20:04.49. Southold’s Tate Klipstein was 12th in 20:45.32 and teammate Andrew Clausen was 14th in 21:25.67.

Did Mraz feel pressure?

“It’s more just nervousness than pressure, like you’re nervous before a recital or you’re nervous before a job interview,” he said. “It’s more like that than it’s like, ‘Oh, I got to do this or else I’m a terrible human being.’ ”

Mraz said he had been hoping to run about 40 seconds faster, but he understood this was a state qualifying meet, and place counted more than time.

“I really did want to qualify and since I did, I’m extremely happy,” he said. “I’m not too impressed with my time, but I’m going and that’s what matters, I guess.”

Top photo caption: Mattituck freshman Trevor Zappulla, in his first cross-country season, qualified to run in the state championships. (Credit: Daniel De Mato)

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