It has been a year of change for Tara Mastroianni, and it’s all been for the better.

Since last spring, the Robbinsville High senior dropped some weight which led to a more confident person. During that time, she also ratcheted up her work ethic when it came to throwing the discus and shot, which not only made her more confident, but much better.

It culminated on May 11, when Mastroianni won a Mercer County Championship meet gold medal in the discus with a personal best throw of 107 feet, 8 inches. It was the biggest win of her career heading into the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II sectional meet on May 24-25.

Senior Tara Mastroianni surprised herself with the personal-best throw that won her the 2019 county title in discus. (Photo by Rich Fisher.)

“I was shaking,” Mastroianni said prior to a practice for sectionals. “I turned to my coach (Andrew Patterson), he shook my hand and said, ‘Congratulations.’ I didn’t know what to do. I called my mom, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, I don’t know what I just did!’ and she was like, ‘I know what you did.’ And it was my birthday week, so it was a great present.”

Head coach Greg Cole said, “That kind of summarizes her athletic career in high school. It’s something that she accomplished, and it kind of closes a book so she can move forward in college. It’s kind of that final chapter. She’s able to end it on a very good note, but we’ll see how long this chapter can run (in state meets).”

Mastroianni also placed in the shot for the first time at MCTs with a sixth-place throw of 31-5. A week earlier she had a fifth-place toss of 32-11.5 at the Mercer Coaches Classic. She is still chasing her PR of 33-11.25 set last year.

Once stronger at shot, Mastroianni has evolved into a better discus thrower. She had a fourth-place throw of 94-6 at the Coaches Classic and a third-place throw of 96-1 at the Mercer County Relays.

That’s what confidence and hard work can do for a person.

“Losing the weight really sparked it and helped me a lot,” Mastroianni said. “I guess I gained more muscle from going to the gym more, and it really helped after that with my throws. I definitely feel a lot more confident this year. When I was younger, I was a little fish in the pond. Now I’m like the big girl, I’m stepping in and I’m feeling more confidence.”

According to Cole, Mastroianni is not an overnight success. It has been a long road that she was eager to travel.

“This isn’t something that started in the spring, it started early on, it’s been something she’s been working on in all throwing events,” Cole said. “She’s just been strong with that and also as a leader. She’s someone that consistently really shows a team how to do it and leads by actions and what she does during meets. People are able to follow her and up their performance level as well.”

Mastroianni’s career started when a soccer door closed and the track and field window opened.

“I did gymnastics and soccer for a long time,” she said. “When I was in sixth grade, I didn’t make the soccer team so I tried out for track.”

More accurately, she tried out for “field” as Mastroianni wanted nothing to do with the track.

“I’m not a runner at all,” she said. “I give props to people who run because I struggle with it so much. My friend asked me to try out and she ran; and I said ‘I can’t run, I can’t run!” And then she was like, ‘Oh, well there’s throwing,’ and I got interested in that. I was always kind of a stronger person, so I did it and I liked it so much.”

She started doing discus, shot and javelin, but put javelin in the same “can’t do” column as running. But she was outstanding in the other two, and earned Thrower of the Year at Pond Road Middle School.

“I came into high school and I was throwing over 30 (in shot) as a freshman, and I kept going higher and higher so I liked it,” Mastroianni said. “Shot used to be my priority, but over the past two years something happened and disc is my priority. I don’t know how, but disc just became better. I came in here, shot was my thing, I enjoyed it and, I don’t know, it just switched.”

After her junior season, Mastroianni realized she had to make some major strides if she wanted to fulfill her dream of competing in college. She won medals at the Hopewell-Steinert Freshman-Sophomore meet but never placed in counties and did not advance out of the sectionals. Thus, she dedicated the summer, fall and winter to getting in shape and improving her technique.

“I kind of went on my own and just started training for better form,” she said. “I kind of focused on myself and took it more seriously this year, and I think it really helped a lot.”

Mastroianni began practicing with her teammates over the summer; and if they weren’t there she put her newly acquired driver’s license to use by driving to the high school and working by herself in the circle. She also studied tapes of others, along with herself, to get a better idea of correct throwing.

“It helped me improve my form so much,” she said. “Sometimes not everyone is able to see the little things, so when I set up my camera I just keep running my form back and forth.”

And the results are?

“Definitely my feet are an improvement,” Mastroianni said. “I started full spinning this year, which helped me get so much more into my throw. I was half spinning last year. So that helped.”

Cole said Mastroianni didn’t brag about her extra work, but her improved form said it all.

“It’s something we more see in her actions other than what she talks about,” the coach said. “I talked to her briefly about it, she has mentioned about how she’s been working on some of the little things. Making sure she doesn’t foul, making sure she’s holding the shot the right way. I know that’s something she talks about in depth coach Patterson.”

Heading into sectionals, Cole and Mastroianni both felt she had a shot to get into the Top 6 and advance to the All Groups State Meet for the first time. Mastroianni was also hoping to break the school record, which she is 10 feet shy of.

“I always like to think the sky’s the limit,” Cole said. “I think as long as she’s working and it’s her main focus, she can grow and keep on growing. And I think she can do very well in college.”

Mastroianni will take her skills and impressive 3.6 grade point average to Montclair State and major in exercise science. Based on the improvements she has made, Mastroianni thinks she may want help people improve their wellness and is pondering a career in sports conditioning.

She will also be looking to keep rising in track, of course.

“I met with Montclair a few times,” Mastroianni said. “The track team is amazing, the coach is amazing. The program is exactly what I wanted. So that’s why I had to step up my game a little bit. After I got everything together, I was like, ‘OK, I want to do this in college.’ I feel like I have everything down and I feel really confident in it.”

And to think some people don’t like change.