Zariel Macchia has gone national.
Long Islanders have long known about Floyd’s fastest freshman, who began putting down fast times in seventh grade. This fall, the state found out how good she can be. Now, the entire country has heard the name and seen the fast feet of a runner that might very well be in the national mix for years to come.
Macchia placed 12th in 17 minutes, 43.3 seconds at the Eastbay Cross Country National Championships last Saturday in San Diego. She was the highest finishing freshman or sophomore in a race that started with 40 of the best high school runners in the nation. Natalie Cook of Flower Mound, Texas, won the national championship in 17:15.0.
Macchia, who was named Newsday’s Runner of the Year this week, was the second-fastest New Yorker in the race. New Windsor’s Karrie Baloga was fourth in 17:29.1.
Macchia qualified for the national meet by placing second at the Eastbay Northeast Regional at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx on Thanksgiving Weekend. She said the performance at regionals – where she beat some of the best runners in New York State –- gave her a new confidence.
"At regionals, I kind of proved to myself that I do belong in these races and I can run with girls that are that good," Macchia said. "On race day [at nationals], I was definitely very nervous, but I did kind of think that I belonged there."
Macchia was able to withstand a tough course and a physical field on her way to the top-12 finish.
"The girls are definitely very physical, [throwing] elbows and pushing you around," she said. "One girl was getting mad at me on the turns because I wasn’t giving her the inside. She was like, ‘Move over!’ and was giving me elbows."
But Macchia wasn’t fooled by the intimidation factor. Instead of giving in, she gave her vocal opponent more room by moving ahead of her. She said she beat the unnamed runner by 5-6 spots.
"I kind of tried to keep my ground," Macchia said. "She was a bit stronger than me, so I did kind of get pushed over a bit, but I did end up running in front of her."
The race was held at Balboa Park in San Diego, a course with multiple terrain changes – pushing runners to the limit by giving them a little bit of everything.
"I have been in some races that were probably close in difficulty and very hard efforts, but this was probably the toughest race I've been in." Macchia said. " [It was] the most physical and very difficult. It's a very tough course. You can't just be good at one part of cross country. You have to be able to do everything well. I think that's probably why I was able to get 12th and the top freshmen and sophomore [spot]. I had to get used to the physicality as the race went on, but I do think I adjusted fairly well to it."
Now, Macchia will turn toward indoor track, where she said she’ll run anything from 400-3,000 meters. Because of her relatively light training, she’ll jump right into it – not taking much of a break between a national cross country run and trying for fast times on the indoor oval.
"My training isn’t too strenuous where I have to take a break," she said. "Some girls are training a lot more than I am, so they do have to take a break to stay healthy. At this point, right now, my training is not that crazy. So, I just keep running."