Upon the start of preseason training, Tara Mastroianni was the last female thrower left on the Montclair State University women’s track and field team. Graduation losses included some of the best Red Hawk throwers in recent memory such as Christine Griffith, Lena Bilotti and Stephanie Eastman.
For most people, it would’ve been a frightening thing to hear. However, the junior thrower out of Robbinsville, New Jersey, seemed to be motivated by this challenge; she wanted to bring more attention to women’s throwing here at Montclair State.
However, head coach Ian Carter didn’t want her to fight that battle alone.
“[For] the first two practices of [indoor track], I was all by myself,” Mastroianni said. “Carter kept me company during practice at that point. After talking with him, he told me he didn’t want to see me alone like that because I would get in my own head at competitions. Having someone be by my side [was great because] she could help me [and] I could help her.”
Sports anxiety is something Mastroianni has been struggling with for quite a few seasons now. She describes it as “blacking out,” whenever she enters the circle. She’s unaware of everything around her, from the placement of her feet when she’s spinning for a discus throw to the throwing technique of launching an eight-pound shot put.
Throughout her first few years of her college career, mentors such as Griffith, Bilotti and Eastman were crucial to ensuring she remained calm in the circle and less anxious. With them gone, who could fill the void as that shoulder to lean on during meets?
Thankfully, prior to the start of the indoor season, Carter was able to land Mastroianni a new companion — Eve Rosado.
“Due to [the coronavirus], it’s been really hard to differentiate who I can and can’t bring based on their times and throws,” Carter said. “But I know [Mastroianni]. She’s a very social person, so I knew it would be beneficial with her if we brought someone else on. I did my research, threw a couple flyers out and then we [got in contact] with Rosado, who I think has been a great addition to the team. They’ve sparked a really good friendship that has been beneficial for them on and off the track.”
Currently a sophomore on the team, Rosado hadn’t competed in a throws competition in a few years — since high school to be exact. While Mastroianni is the more experienced out of the two, they both help each other out in similar ways.
“[Mastroianni] and I practice really well together,” Rosado said. “We are always pushing each other, even when we are getting kind of tired [of practicing]. It’s always ‘let’s do one more throw.’ Or, if I’m having a bad day at practice, I’ll tell [Mastroianni] I’m just not dealing with it today, and she has that experience to be like, ‘you can just call it here, no need to push yourself further or beat [down] on yourself.’”
Off the track, Mastroianni has helped Rosado adjust to the team’s social dynamic.
Her leadership goes beyond her abilities inside the circle. For years, the track and field program has lacked a strong presence on social media, hindering the program’s ability to market themselves to the public eye, particularly the university community. Mastroianni decided to take the initiative and serve as the program’s social media director for the season.
“It was the first indoor track meet of the season and I noticed the girl who ran [the social media] before graduated, so nothing was being posted,” Mastroianni said. “I went up to Carter and I told him I would volunteer and run it. I didn’t mind because I always wanted to get involved in something like that, and everyday I’d learn something new by messing around with Photoshop, PixArt and by looking at other social media pages to see what they do and how they promote their team.”
But make no mistake about it: Mastroianni can get it done in the circle. In terms of her events for outdoor track and field, she competes in shot put, discus and hammer. She’s particularly strong at the discus, hitting a personal record of 34.57 meters at the Oscar Moore Invitational on March 26, the team’s first meet of the season. She followed that up with a 33.79 meter mark at the Ramapo College Invitational about a week later.
Her mark at the Oscar Moore Invitational is currently good for eighth in the conference, only a few feet off from some of the best throwers in the conference and the qualifying mark for regionals.
Early on her college career, Mastroianni focused more on shot put, throwing as high as 34 feet in her freshman year, but she quickly turned her attention towards discus after some strong practices during the preseason.
Part of her motivation for achieving a personal record in discus, however, ironically came from one of her worst performances in shot put.
“It was almost expected I would [go above my personal record] or come close to my [personal record] in discus since it was looking so good in practice,” Mastroianni said. “When we got to that [Oscar Moore] meet, I decided I was going to put more of my focus to hammer and discus and not shot put, like how I would my freshman year. I didn’t do so well in the shot put that meet, so I told Carter that I knew I had to come back strong for discus cause I can’t end on a bad note. My form [for discus] was looking good, and I know something good is going to happen when I step into that circle and have a positive mindset.”
And while it’s a simple concept, having a positive mindset has truly helped Mastroianni manage her sports anxiety. For her, it’s been about improving her confidence, and being optimistic that every time she steps into the circle, it’s an opportunity for a huge personal record. Proper breathing techniques and a change in her pre-game music playlist have also been helpful.
While the pressure may be on her to continue to raise more attention to the women’s throwing team, Carter believes her future is certainly bright.
“The biggest thing is her self-confidence,” Carter said. “She’s her own worst enemy if she talks herself out. But when she’s on, she can compete with the best of them. I really want to see her get top three in the conference for discus.”