By John Goralski
A Lady Knight foursome cheered the boys team as they circled the track just moments before their heat was called onto the track. On the balcony of the New Haven Athletic Center, another group of Knights cheered the Southington relay.
On Friday, Dec. 14, the indoor track season opened with the elite athletes at the New Haven Invitational Varsity Meet, and for the first time in years Southington was well-represented. Typically, the Knights bring just a few athletes to the opening event, but this year they brought a small squad.
In the balcony, on the sidelines, and roaming around the track, the Blue Knights swarmed the elite varsity competition. Southington qualified 21 athletes in 14 different events. The Knights competed on the track, in the throws, and in the relays at an invitational event that’s as selective as a postseason competition.
“It’s a great sign, and you can tell that they’ve been doing a lot of training,” said Blue Knight indoor track coach Annie Groom. “I didn’t enter anybody that I didn’t think would be competitive, and we’re still trying to get the kids into the right events and get them seeded with the right times. This was an event where it was important to get seeded with the right times because they only took the top 30 entries in any event.”
Southington athletes embraced the opportunity with nine athletes competing in multiple events. Junior thrower Matt Bennett qualified for the postseason in the shot put (39’7.0”). Colin Murphy, Andrew Bielecki, Finn Gordon, and Damiean Florian qualified as a group for the 4x800m relay (9:05.37). Nick Mike Sullivan competed in three different races, and Nick Garcia (4:52.09) needs to pare just a few seconds off his time in the 1600m if he’s going to return to the postseason this winter.
“I think we did great. We had some great surprises, and I really couldn’t have asked for more from any of the varsity kids,” said Groom. “I’m just really happy that all of our training has already given us some great results. The kids are doing great. I’m ready for even more things from them and even better.”
Ben Gibbons was the only Southington athlete to score at the prestigious event, but he was just one of two Knights to break a long-standing school record at the first meet. Gibbons finished sixth overall in the 400m (53.95) to break the previous best mark set by Stuart Soboleski (54.51) in the winter of 2001.
Alyssa Lombardi also broke a record that has stood since the third year of the program with a time of 2:32.39 in the 800m. The previous best was set by Maureen Suchenski in the 2000-2001 season.
Cyndy Woolley almost became the third record setter of the day with her performance in the 400m (1:05.84), but she’ll have plenty of chances to pare time off her score in the upcoming meets.
Right now, Groom said that she’ll keep the focus on the postseason, and she has already scheduled another qualifying meet this weekend for her four athletes that are closest to a postseason score. After his performance in the 400m, Gibbons will attempt to qualify in the 300m this weekend. Woolley will challenge the 300m, and Lombardi will try to qualify in the 1000m while Garcia takes his chances in the 800m.
“I think that there are even more great times to be had, and that’s why I added the qualifier meet this weekend for four of them,” said Groom. “It would be really nice for them to go off on their vacations knowing that they’ve qualified in individual events.”
Junior Varsity meet
On Saturday, Groom returned to the New Haven complex for the junior varsity meet and 26 Knights competed in 16 different events. Southington scored five top 10 finishes as the underclassmen try to qualify for the upcoming invitational meets.
“It’s a good chance to get some experience for those JV kids that have never run an indoor meet,” said Groom.
Jessica Howe led the way with a fourth place finish in the freshman 55m (8.26) and a ninth place finish in the freshman 200m (31.08). Lauren Perkowski finished seventh in the 3200m (13:00.01). Gaby Zuk placed ninth in the freshman 1600m (7:04.76), and Jack Myers cracked the top 10 with a ninth place finish in the 3200m (11:15.65).