By John Goralski
Every minute, a whistle rented the air at Coxe Cage in New Haven as wave after wave of sprinters circled the Yale track. On Friday, Jan. 17, five Southington girls and six local boys were sprinkled into 28 heats of the 300m in a field of over 300 sprinters. On Saturday, Groom shuffled 10 girls and eight boys into 22 heats of the 3,000m race.
In many ways, the annual Yale Track Classic is tougher than any postseason meet as it welcomed athletes from up and down the east coast.
“It’s gotten to be bigger each year,” said Blue Knight track coach Annie Groom. “When I got the meet reports this year the director told me that it was harder to get in than ever before with so many states coming in. They had teams from New York, Virginia, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania, and everybody’s entering their best athletes.”
The Knights embraced the challenge. Matt Bennett is ranked No. 8 in New England at the shot put, and he beat all but two Connecticut throwers to finish ninth at the star-studded regional meet.
“The guy that came in first is ranked No. 1 in the nation, so that really shows you the caliber of athletes at this meet,” said Groom. “There were 12 heats of the boys 3,000m race, and Sean Garrison was in Heat 7. He’s really fast, so that goes to show you how competitive the group was this year. It was definitely worth the trip, and I was really happy with how we did.”
For two days, Groom shuffled her athletes into the competition, and she came away with eight more athletes qualified for postseason contests.
Dan Parzych (39.23) and Liam Scafariello (39.47) finished in the top 70 of the 300m to earn qualifying times for the upcoming Class LL state championships. Erin Angelillo (48.47) was the only 300m sprinter on the girls team to come away with a bid to the upcoming conference meet, but she combined with Kali Pliego, Jami Pliego, and Raquel Romano to secure a state tournament bid in the 4x400m relay (4:33.62).
Groom said that it was all by design. The meet usually falls during Southington’s mid-term schedule, so the Knights aren’t able to take full advantage of the Friday sprints. With no school conflict, it allowed her to push her sprinters early, and that helped set up the relay performance at the end of the first day.
“I knew that everybody that I wanted to put into our girls 4x400m relay could run a really good 300m, and I figured that it would be a really good warm-up for the relay,” said the coach. “We usually can’t do that, but that was my plan this year, and it paid off.”
Success carried into the second day as four more Knights claimed postseason bids. Jess Howe qualified for the Class LL championships in the 55m (7.95). Sean Garrison (9:43.07) just missed a state qualifying time in the 3000m but earned himself another shot with a qualifying time for the conference meet. Gabi Napoli (11:53.78) and Catherine Myers (11:54.33) both qualified for the CCC Championships in the 3000m.
“We had some really great performances,” said Groom. “Yale is such an exciting track. It gets really crowded, but there’s always so much to watch. Even if you don’t have an athlete in an event, you can still learn. After they ran the 3,000m, my kids were watching the track while we were waiting for Matt Bennett to finish. They were studying strategy, and it was a good learning experience for all of them.”
Now, the Knights will prepare for their next challenge—the postseason. On Saturday, Jan. 25, the Knights will send 12 individuals and four relays to the Central Connecticut Conference Championships at Hillhouse High School in New Haven. Competition is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m.
To comment on this story or to contact sports writer John Goralski, email him at jgoralski@ southingtonobserver.com.