Winthrop’s James Cognata competes in the 400-meters during the Mountain Valley Conference championship meet Wednesday at Hall-Dale High School in Farmingdale. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Winthrop’s James Cognata didn’t lose much this spring. 

Focusing on shorter distances for his sophomore season — and his first outdoor track season with Winthrop after losing out on a season last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic — Cognata did just enough in the winter to keep his body ready for when it counted. 

There weren’t indoor track meets this past winter for Maine high schools so Cognata trained in an indoor facility in Topsham and kept his mileage at around 25 miles a week, preparing for the outdoor season. 

Cognata competed at the AAU Indoor National Championships in March, finishing in second place in the 800-meter run and seventh in the 400-meter run, and was ready for outdoor races to finally show what he could do in Maine. 

“I felt like I was a baseball player and I was in a slump and I just needed a good race to break out,” Cognata said. “I’d been training but it was hard to get back. During COVID I really had to rely on my coach, Ed Van Tassel.”

His first meet went well, but it was an adjustment for him with it being his first high school outdoor meet, masks still on faces and trying to establish a baseline for his times. 

“It was at Hall-Dale and the expectation really wasn’t that high, but for what it was no one had run in a while and everyone was masked up and you could tell it had been so long,” Cognata said. “The first meet I didn’t post my greatest time but it was really great to get back out there.”

There was a breakthrough point for Cognata, and from there it was fast time after fast time. 

“It was a race at Wiscasset with Boothbay and I hadn’t posted great times yet,” Cognata said. “My times were good but they were the same as eighth grade. My 400, it was you and yourself in that race, it doesn’t matter if you’re running alone or not. I posted a 51, a (personal record by three seconds), and it felt so great to post that. Then I had a shot at my school record.”

After winning both the 400, 4×800 and the 200 in the Mountain Valley Conference North championships, Cognata turned his attention to the Class C state meet, where all his offseason and in-season work culminated in the 200 and 400. 

“In the 400, I was pretty confident, I’m not going to lie,” Cognata said. “I was feeling good and I was the top seed by a second or two, that was my strongest one.” 

Cognata ran a PR of 50.62, breaking Winthrop’s school record. 

The 400 win was followed by an upset of sorts in the 200, where the Winthrop sophomore entered the race behind Traip Academy’s Treshaun Brown in seed time. 

“In the 200, I was shaky,” Cognata said. “I was the third seed and there was a guy who was like a second and a half ahead of me, but then at conferences I ran a PR and he was only four-tenths of a second ahead of me. I was still a little worried but I ended up pulling through. The guy from Traip had me in the first turn but I ended up nipping him at the end.”

Cognata’s 23.61 was a PR again, his second state title as only a sophomore and he followed his two titles with a fourth-place finish as part of Winthrop’s 4×400-meter relay team, maybe his favorite event.

“To be able to place felt really good because it makes me feel like we can do even better next year if we want,” Cognata said. “The 4×400 is at the end so I can give it my all.”

Next season, Cognata said he is going to be moving to distance events such as the 1,600-meter and the 3,200-meter and hopes to do just as well as his two golds this spring.


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