It didn’t bring him a gold medal, but Rickie Casazza turned a scary moment into a golden moment for him in the state winter track championships Saturday.
The Shoreham-Wading River high jumper had missed his first two attempts at 6 feet, 4 inches. Then the senior cleared the height on his third and final try. That enabled him to go on and clear 6-5 and then 6-6, leaving him in second place at Ocean Breeze Track and Field Athletic Complex in Staten Island.
“Awesome,” Casazza replied when asked how he felt about how things turned out. “There was one part where at 6-4 I was on my last jump, and that was probably the scariest moment ever, but being able to power through … it made it that much better.”
Casazza, who said he had wanted to live up to his No. 2 seed, did just that. Babylon senior Vlad Cullinane was first at 6-7.
“It feels great,” Cullinane said. “Same thing happened at state quals.”
The 6-2 Cullinane was referring to the repeat of a showdown against Casazza and the same order of finish in the Section XI Championships.
With his 6-6, Casazza equaled his personal best. He entered the competition at 5-9 before handling 6-0, 6-2, 6-4, 6-5 and 6-6.
“It got a little rocky,” said Casazza, who will compete in the New Balance Indoor Nationals at The Armory in Manhattan next weekend. “Like I said, I was very scared.”
It was the first state indoor meet for Casazza as well as two of his teammates, seniors Dan Montenegro and Ryan Ledda.
Montenegro, a long jumper, was not among the eight to qualify for the finals. His best jump of the day was 20-1/2. That was well short of his personal best of 21-6 3/4.
“It wasn’t my best, obviously, but I guess you could say I had a rough day,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting that much of a time gap between the triple jump and the long jump so it was sort of like waiting, waiting.”
What was Montenegro’s take on his state meet experience?
“You’re competing with the best of the best,” he said. “I liked the vibe of it.”
Ledda, a pole vaulter who has gone as high as 13-0, cleared 11-6 and 12-0 before failing on all three of his attempts at 12-6.
“I tried my best, the best I can, but in the end, that’s all you can really do,” he said. “I probably should have moved up to a bigger pole.”
“Even though I didn’t compete to the caliber I wanted, it was still an experience I wouldn’t change,” he continued. “I loved it. I’m not completely disappointed with what I did today. I’ve had some pretty bad meets before and the only thing I could really do was put them behind me, and that’s what I think I’m going to do with this one.”
Kian Martelli might take the same approach. Martelli is one of the many flu victims this winter. Unfortunately for the Riverhead junior, his flu symptoms arrived at the most inopportune time.
Because of illness, Martelli hadn’t trained for about a week and a half, spending time home in bed. But there he was Saturday, competing against the state’s best in the triple jump.
Martelli, clearly not feeling himself, turned in jumps of 39-9 3/4, 41-0 and 39-6 1/2, failing to reach the eight-person finals.
“My head’s killing me and my body feels weak,” said Martelli, whose personal record indoors is 44-2 1/2. “I’m happy I made it here, but in terms of how I did, not well at all, but I got to be here. Hopefully I’ll come back in the spring and do better.”
Riverhead coach Sal Loverde said: “There were a lot of obstacles in our way the last couple of weeks, particularly with him being ill. There’s not much you can do. I had the flu myself a few weeks back and it just wipes you out.
“Let it be a good lesson that when you don’t have the opportunity to do the work, you really can’t perform to the best of your ability. He’s an extreme competitor, and it gnaws at him, I’m sure.”
Loverde said the 41-0 jump had the potential to be something better. “That 41-foot jump was actually more towards 43 feet,” the coach said. “He did drag one of his land legs and they measured back, so he did punch one out there. You can see he just didn’t feel it. He’s been in tough shape all week.”
Martelli said: “I’m glad I was here. I knew there were some guys that were really, really good and if I couldn’t do my best, there was no way I was going to the finals.”
Loverde said the future looks bright for Martelli. “A lot of the kids that he’s competing against right now for these positions are upperclassmen themselves,” he said, “so with continued work and development, he should find himself in a real strong place in the spring and certainly next year.”
Photo caption: Shoreham-Wading River high jumper Rickie Casazza, equaled his personal best, clearing 6 feet, 6 inches to take second in the state meet. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)