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Cross Country: Zappulla, Vaccarella lead Mattituck boys and girls teams to state championship meet

A one-point difference separated the Mattituck and Center Moriches boys cross country teams when they faced off in an October dual meet. Both teams were 5-0 and the League VII title hung in the balance that afternoon.

Center Moriches prevailed by one, 28-29. It may have been a disappointing finish, but the Mattituck runners knew another opportunity awaited. To qualify for the New York State Championships as a team would require going through Center Moriches.

This time, it was the Tuckers that emerged as champions.

At the Section XI Championships on Nov. 4 at Sunken Meadow State Park, Mattituck tallied 69 points in the boys Class C/D race to edge Center Moriches, which finished with 72.

The win capped a remarkable afternoon for the Mattituck program as both the boys and girls teams were crowned county champs, each earning a bid into last weekend’s state meet held in Verona, N.Y.

County championships have become a yearly tradition on the girls side, but not as much for the boys program. To win the county meet, the Tuckers were led by their standout senior, Trevor Zappulla, who won the race in 17 minutes, 23.48 seconds. He was well ahead of the next finisher, Port Jefferson’s Brendan Capodanno in 17:36.19.

“I kind of took the race fast and got ahead of everyone,” he said, noting it was a slightly different strategy than he typically uses in a big meet. “I knew with this I would just try to get out and hold on.”

After finishing the race, Zappulla headed back toward the finish line to see the rest of his teammates. The end of a cross country race, with runners from various teams finishing in bunches, can make it tough to follow on a scorecard. It can take until the final results are displayed for a team to know where it stands.

“Our coach told us 10 minutes before they announced it that we won,” Zappulla said. “I thought we did, but I wasn’t sure. And then he told us.”

Zappulla first qualified for the state championships as an individual in his freshman season in 2019. He made it to the state meet last year as a junior as well. (The state meet was canceled in the fall of 2020).

He finished 11th in Saturday’s race to earn All-State honors. He ran 17:28.50 on the 5,000-meter course.

“That was kind of the goal,” he said. “And just going as a team was a good experience for everyone.”

Girls coach Chris Robinson said it was “unprecedented” for both teams to qualify for the state meet. At the Section XI Championships, senior Ava Vaccarella led the Tuckers with a second-place finish in 21:06.01. It was an equally close finish as Mattituck narrowly held off Center Moriches to win the Class C title.

Ava Vaccarella was the top runner for Mattituck all season. (Courtesy photo)

The girls program had a run of eight straight trips to the state meet as a team. That came to end last season, but the team brought back the tradition this year.

“We knew the standards of what we all had to hit [at the county meet] and we were going back and forth with it. It could have came out either way,” Vaccarella said. 

She said the runners all knew they had to do their job to get the result they wanted.

Vaccarella led a young group that included a trio of sophomores: Georgia Buckley, Ruby Villani and Summer Hinch. Senior Jessica Rakoczy was the fourth Mattituck finisher at the county meet.

The girls race was first at the county meet, giving the Mattituck girls the chance to watch as the boys equaled their accomplishment.

“We practice with the boys, too, so our times are somewhat alike with some of them, so it’s good to push them, too,” Vaccarella said. 

Vaccarella was once again the top Mattituck finisher at the state meet, finishing the course in 21:35.70. As a team, the girls finished ninth in Class C. East Aurora ran away with the state title.

“We celebrated and enjoyed the county title, which is the goal we have set for ourselves,” Robinson said. “At states, there’s no magic workout that I can do at that point. So they have to just go out and work hard and have the goal for themselves and hopefully achieve it.”

The boys team finished in ninth as well at the state meet. Bronxville was the top team.

Mattituck sophomore Tanner Vaccarella (18:33.8), sophomore Colin Fitzgerald (19:17), eighth-grader Rafa Finnerty (19:47.1), senior Vincent Rakoczy (21:14.1), sophomore Matt Rosato (21:51) and senior Marc Zappulla (22:09.3) rounded out the times for the boys Saturday.

On the girls side, the times on Saturday were 22:01 for Villani, 22:28 for Buckley, 23:47.9 for Rakoczy and 25:42.3 for Hinch.

Southold to states

Southold junior Flynn Klipstein qualified for the state meet as an individual in the Class D race. He finished 34th overall Saturday in 18:20.7. It was his second straight season competing at the state championships.

He was joined by teammates Jack Goscinski (48th in 18:51.2) and Matthew Molnar (60th in 19:16.3). Port Jefferson was the Class D team winner that competed at the state meet for Section XI.