By John Goralski
Southington had three varsity seniors last year, and they all finished in the top 100 at the Class L meet. They had five seniors score in the preseason the previous the year, and one of them advanced to the state open.
Rich Niro knows the importance of experience when he’s filling out his cross country roster, and that’s why he has such high expectations for his boys team this fall. He returns 10 seniors and a small group of underclassmen to a program that’s poised to make another run.
“We have a lot of veteran guys that know what they’re doing, and that’s our strength at the start of the season,” said the coach. “They have a lot of seasons in them, and we’re hoping that they mix in with some of this younger talent that we have. It should be an exciting year.”
Southington took a small step backwards last fall when they failed to qualify a state open runner for the first time since 2007, but Southington was rebuilding with youth. The thin varsity roster allowed him to shuffle three juniors and one sophomore into the postseason lineup. That was the investment, and this year could be the harvest.
“With the talent we have, there will be some good running this season,” Niro said. “We’re looking to build toward the postseason. We’re really looking at the end of the season and what we need to do to get our finishes there.”
Niro knows that it will take a strong, concerted effort to meet their goals as Southington tries to survive a regular season schedule that’s peppered with championship teams. Last year the Knights finished 6-8, but they competed in a division that finished four of the top five teams at the conference meet.
A winning record might still be a long-shot, but Niro expects to be more competitive than last year. That should equate into a stronger postseason.
“We’re looking to build upon last year in this conference,” said the coach. “Hall is returning a lot of kids from a really good varsity team. Simsbury’s always tough. Farmington has one really top flight runner with a lot of good guys behind him. We’re just looking to compete with them. We want to build toward the end of the season and put together a really good showing at the state meet. That’s our goal for the year. It’s not just about our record.”
To lead the workouts, Niro will turn to his four senior captains. Colin Murphy, Andrzej Bielecki, Dylan Sperry, and Matthew Albrecht have been instrumental in the off-season as Southington tries to hit the ground running this fall.
“We have 10 seniors, and they all have a lot of abilities, but these four stood out for their leadership,” said Niro. “Their teammates can trust them. They know what their doing, and they lead by example.”
Damiaen Florian and Kyle Summa both scored at the Class LL meet last season. Jack Myers scored as a sophomore. All three return to anchor a solid core of experienced runners. Sean Garrison is expected to break into the lineup, and Niro has seen a strong commitment to training during the off-season.
“We’ve got a sophomore, a junior, and a senior in that front group, and they’ve all done the right things this summer,” he said. “They went to running camp. You can count on them to be out running all the time, but they’ve been really smart about their training. They haven’t been over-doing it but getting enough work in. They are good, solid guys that their teammates can count on. That’s our focus this year.”
Depth is the biggest challenge at the start of the season, and Niro said that the team only goes about seven or eight guys deep at the varsity level. That should allow some underclassmen a shot to earn some varsity experience, and Niro said that could pay dividends by year’s end.
“We have 16 freshman that came out with some serious talent. Our future is really, really bright, and this is a building year towards some great things,” he said. “We’d like to finish in the top eight at the conference meet. That might not sound too spectacular, but in a conference of 32 teams with some of these teams that we will see in our conference, that’s a pretty good finish. We want to show that we can be second or better in some of the other divisions. We’re in the toughest division of the CCC, and that’s something we can show at the conference meet.”
Can the Knights post a winning record? Can they make a run at the front group at the conference and state meets? Can they return to the state open with one or more runners?
Don’t count them out.
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By John Goralski