A little more than a year ago, Melissa Zammitti was the top dog on Davidson Day School’s girls cross country and track teams, handily winning four state private school titles as an eighth-grader.But Zammitti wanted more of a challenge, which led to her transferring to Lake Norman High – a public school with a student body five times the size of Davidson Day – over the summer.There, she’s no longer the top dog – at least not yet – which is just how Zammitti wanted it, even if she’s not sure how things will work out.“I’m a little worried, but I wanted this level of competition,” Zammitti said. “I’m hoping it’ll help me as a runner. I’m not positive it will work, but I always have the option of going back.”Wildcats head coach Donna Carpentier doesn’t see that happening – Zammitti has already climbed to No. 2 among Lake Norman’s runners, and finished third in her first race with the team.“You always worry about how they develop, especially the girls, as they get older, and you always worry about the burnout factor,” Carpentier said. “But her potential is limitless. It comes from her drive, which is also limitless.”Zammitti got the itch to run from watching the Boston Marathon, which begins in her hometown of Hopkinton, Mass., and ran her first race at age 7.“It actually starts in my neighborhood, so I got to watch that,” Zammitti said. “Then there was this thing called the ‘mini-marathon,’ which let little kids run about a half-mile. I wasn’t going to run it, but my Dad (Sal Zammitti) said that if I ran it and won, I could get a dog.“I was in my jeans and boots, not really dressed all that well to run, but I ran the race and won. I got a Labradoodle. I wound up running it every year, and it became a passion for me. I kept with it.”Zammitti kept running after her family moved to North Carolina in 2009 and began running with Davidson Day’s cross country and track teams two years later.“When we moved here, everybody back home said I should stick with running,” Zammitti said.That’s when Zammitti’s talent first showed itself.As a seventh-grader at Davidson Day, she finished fourth in the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association’s (NCISAA) 2A state cross country meet in October 2011, then finished fourth in the 3,200-meter run and sixth in both the 800- and 1,600-meter runs at the NCISAA state track championships in May 2012.A year later, Zammitti did even better, sweeping the NCISAA girls 2A state cross country and 800-, 1,600- and 3,200-meter track titles – and beat the same runner in all four races, seventh-grader Marissa Bishop of Cary Christian School.That also showed Zammitti that she needed some tougher competition if she wanted to improve as a runner. That decision led to her transferring to Lake Norman, where her older sister, Jessica, is a senior.“At Davidson Day, there’d only be two or three teams to come race,” Zammitti said. “I’d usually wind up running alone, and looking over my shoulder at the others.“My coaches always told me, ‘You grow more from the races that you’re not expected to win, because you’ve got people pushing you.’ I felt like I wasn’t getting that there.”Zammitti joined the team two weeks before the start of the school year, but it took only one practice for Carpentier to learn just what her newest runner could do.“I didn’t realize who she was, not at all – and not right away,” Carpentier said. “But at her first workout, I was like ‘Wait a second; who is this?’ It’s a nice little gift.”Zammitti ran her first race with the Wildcats on Aug. 29 at the Ashbrook Luminary Run at Gastonia’s Ashbrook High. Competing in the junior varsity division because it was her first race with the team, Zammitti finished third behind a pair of runners from Charlotte’s Myers Park High, a traditional cross-country power in the state.In the days since that race, Zammitti has climbed up Lake Norman’s roster of runners. She’s currently No. 2 on the varsity, just behind another freshman, Holly Bailey.According to Carpentier, both Zammitti and Bailey could be the first Lake Norman runners to qualify for the N.C. High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA) 4A state championship meet since Taylor Sweet made the race in 2010.“It’s an ideal situation for her, and the team,” Carpentier said of Zammitti. “This has the potential to shape up to be the best girls team in the history of the school. They’re playing off of each other, and it’s exciting to see.”
Sunday, Sep. 22, 2013
No longer the top dog
Kiser: 704-895-3662; Twitter: @Bkiser_CLTObs.
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