WESTERLY — It was January and Westerly High senior Anna Cozzolino still didn't know where she was going to college.
It just wasn't falling into place.
"A couple of [the schools], I just couldn't see myself going there or the scholarship wasn't right," Cozzolino said. "None of them were working out for me."
Then, someone suggested the University of Massachusetts. Cozzolino went for an unofficial visit with low expectations. But when she arrived, things changed after meeting with throws coach John Napolitano. He said the things she needed to hear.
"He was very upfront," Cozzolino said. "He told me the pros and cons of the school. That was different. They were honest about their expectations of me. A lot of other coaches were hiding behind smoke and mirrors, not telling me the full picture. And the girls on the team were [honest] the same way. It was really nice to see an upfront program. And when it came to scholarships, they talked about seeing growth — not only as an athlete, but also as a student."
Finally, Cozzolino had a home, a place where she felt comfortable. Cozzolino will be throwing the javelin for the Minutemen, who compete in the Division I Atlantic 10 Conference.
Cozzolino's rise to a Division I athlete experienced a big boost at least season's outdoor state meet, when she finished third in the javelin with a throw of 124-6. It was a personal best by 10-6.
"I just knew since the beginning of the season that I had high hopes for myself; 120 was the goal," Cozzolino said. "I saw the state meet as a last-ditch effort. I was fully confident I could PR, but not by such a wide margin. It felt amazing."
At last season's A-10 outdoor championships, the winning throw was 149 feet and the top scoring throw in eighth place was 120-7. The top UMass performer threw 115-6. Cozzolino will fit in just fine in the A-10.
Cozzolino said she always wanted to be a collegiate athlete.
"I thought it would be softball, but after my freshman year, I realized it wasn't for me," Cozzolino said. "My sophomore year, I did sprinting and jumping, like everyone else new to track. I saw Victoria Carreiro and Megan Albamonti throwing [the javelin] and I thought it would be worth trying."
Her junior year, her throws were consistently more than 100 feet. She threw 111-10 at the Southern Division title meet, and 114 at the Class B championships before reaching her 124-6 at states.
Cozzolino stands 5-8 and said throwing the javelin is much more than strength.
"A lot of people don’t realize that speed is a huge factor," Cozzolino said. "It's all in the approach and gathering as much momentum as possible. You have to make yourself as long and flexible as possible. It's about how far you can get your arm back relative to the front of your foot."
How does Cozzolino know if she has nailed the technique on a throw?
"My coaches always tell me, 'The javelin never lies,'" she said.
Cozzolino had high hopes for this season after an offseason of conditioning and weightlifting. She had hoped to throw 140 feet and contend for a state title.
Learning that the season was wiped out by the pandemic was not easy.
"In all honestly, it is completely devastating," Cozzolino said. "It was so weird, like track was always something that was definite. Then it was taken away. Maybe nothing is really definite. I know I have a greater appreciation for simple things like going to school every day and seeing people's faces."
Much has been said about the setbacks for seniors. But others are also affected.
"I really feel bad for the juniors, too. They lost that spring season, which is when you show colleges what you can do," Cozzolino said.
Without her junior season, Cozzolino would not be heading off to a D-I school as an athlete.
Cozzolino had purchased a prom dress just a few days before the pandemic hit. Now, she has no plans to wear it. Westerly seniors are picking up their caps and gowns this week.
"What am I supposed to with [the prom dress]?" Cozzolino said. "Our grade is torn apart. Some people want to have some form of these events, but others think that would be worse. Others just want to move on. I don't know if I want those things now."
Cozzolino will major in legal studies and plans to go to law school one day.
Cozzolino wants to thank her family and trainers Todd Gwaltney, Megan Rose Chapman, Nick Discuillo and Westerly coach Dave Federico for their help along the way.
What has she learned in her time at Westerly High?
"I think I've definitely learned to try different things and be willing to go in a completely different direction because that is how I found track to begin with," Cozzolino said. "I've learned to take to heart what coaches and teachers say to me."