RFA’s Toth-Ratazzi, Pugh to compete in state indoor track meet

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Two members of the Rome Free Academy girls indoor track and field team will compete in the state meet at the Ocean Breeze Athletic Complex on State Island today. Senior Emily Toth-Ratazzi and sophomore Imani Pugh will be in two events each.

Toth-Ratazzi is competing in the 3,000-meter race and is a member of the Section III Intersectional medley relay team, where she will run the 600-meter race.

Pugh is competing in the 55-meter hurdles and long jump.

Toth-Ratazzi signed a National Letter of Intent in the fall to run cross country at Syracuse University but this is her first trip to states for indoor track.

“It’s interesting,” she said of a state meet for indoor track. “I’m excited to experience the different competitive atmosphere down there but I do know a lot of the girls I’m competing against.”

“It’s been a pretty good season,” Toth-Ratazzi said, especially after a longer-than-usual cross country season because she ran in several post-season competitions. “I’m excited to go to states.”

She said: “The 3,000 is my favorite event,” a long distance in indoor track that relates to cross country. The strategy is similar to the long race in cross country, she added, but, “You have to get out and not hold back because it’s a short race compared to cross country.” She’s ranked fourth in the state in the event.

She said her goal at states is clear: “Racing my hardest is what I want out of this. If I feel like I crossed the (finish) line and I got the best place I could I’ll be happy with that.” A podium finish is a goal, she said. “Knowing I gave it my all will make me happy.”

Toth-Ratazzi said she has been able to take some lessons from cross country and apply them to indoor track over the years. “The mental aspect is the same — to stick in the race you’re in.” She continued, “Stay in the moment of that race. Don’t worry about past performances or the girls you’re running against.”

She’s been using her senior year since getting the full athletic scholarship from Syracuse University to prepare for the collegiate level. “Every race is an experience and a learning process,” she said.

Coach Nick Jeror said this week’s preparation has been “fine tuning. Most of the work is done.”

In addition to her own race, Toth-Ratazzi is participating in the intersectional relay. Four runners will each race in a different distance — 1,600 meters, 1,000, 600 and 200. She’ll be running the team’s 600-meter race. “I’m really excited to be in that. I didn’t expect to qualify in the 600.” She said she’s looking forward to being on the same relay team as one of her top competitors throughout her high school career — Camden’s Lizzy Lucason — who is running the 1,600. Brynn Bernard of South Lewis will run the 1,000 and in the 200 is Fayetteville-Manlius’ Maya McKenzie.

For the relay, Toth-Ratazzi said she’ll “soak up the experience, have fun with each other and push each other. Cheer for each other with the same goal.”

Jeror said the relay team “is set up” for a state title and is at least a favorite to medal.

The coach said both RFA athletes have a good shot for success this weekend. “They both have really good shots at medaling in their events.”

Pugh, he said, “has been so dominant in the Section” in the hurdles that this might be her first race with tough competition. This week they’ve worked on getting her lead leg down quickly after each hurdle and running hard between the hurdles.

“I was very surprised about it,” said Pugh about her first trip to states. “I had really good coaches and my friends helped me through it. It was a lot of fun in general.”

The hurdles, her favorite event, “is more exciting for me. When the gun goes off, when the whole stadium goes quiet.” The key, she said, will be her start. “Getting out of the blocks quicker,” she said, has been her focus for improvement this week.

Her goal is to run the event in 8.4 seconds, a time she bases off her results so far this season. And, she said, she agrees with Jeror’s assessment of the competition. Having runners pushing her at states, should help. “It’s much easier to tell how fast I’m going based on the other runners.”

In the long jump, Jeror said the preparation this week has been all about takeoff and landing. Pugh said she has to “trust where my foot is going to land. I’m still looking down but you’re supposed to look forward.” She’s hoping to jump at least 18 feet, since “that’s definitely where the competition separates.” She admitted it’s “a long shot, but it would be nice.”

At the end of the day, Pugh said: “I’m just happy to be there.”

Not bad for someone who only switched from basketball this year.

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