By John Goralski
First-year coach Dan Dachelet listened with amused skepticism last spring when Brandon Bayron laid out his plan for off-season workouts. Dachelet couldn’t help but think that his future captain might be biting off more than he could chew, but who was he to question it?
When Bayron returned his running log at the first fall practice, Dachelet was happy that he held his tongue. It was certainly no surprise when teammates voted the relative unknown as this fall’s senior captain. It was a no-brainer.
“Brandon put in something like 625 miles this summer,” said the coach. “It was an all-time record for mileage over the summer. When I walked in to the program, he already had a plan laid out for what he wanted to do. I told him to run with it, and he definitely knew what he was capable of doing.”
Dachelet realized at once that he had made the right choice when he signed on to coach the Blue Knights. Bayron had proven that Southington athletes were up to the task.
“Southington’s got a great history, and Coach Niro has done a great job taking them back up to where they were in the 80s,” he said. “They’re starting to move back up to the top of the conference…and the top of the state. I’m trying to create an atmosphere where all the kids are focused on the lifestyle. They might not become cross country junkies that are constantly focused on the sport, but I want everyone there to realize that this is a varsity sport.”
The Blue Knight cross country team had already peaked Dachelet’s interest in recent years as they challenged to break into the elite pack. Four times, the Knights have finished just outside the team cutoff. Could this be the year that Southington returns to the powerhouse elite?
Dachelet approached this season slowly, but his plans quickly changed.
“We have to figure out how to develop that culture where the kids are totally focused on that one goal,” said Dachelet. “I thought that this was going to be a rebuilding year with the number of graduates that we had last year. We lost something like five of our top seven runners. On paper, I thought that this was going to be a tough year. I thought that we’d just set the tone and move forward.”
It seems that Southington’s runners were already one step ahead of their coach. Bayron set the pace for off-season running that saw more Blue Mile Award recipients than every before. Mileage was up. Team chemistry was at a fevered pitch, and the boys surprised their new coach from the very first time trial.
“I had no idea what I was getting into, but I got the first indication over the summer,” he said. “They were doing a hill workout, and I figured that the seniors and upperclassmen would run away with it. All of a sudden, there was Tom Murdy leading the field. He’s only a sophomore, but he was ahead of our top runners.”
Up and down the lineup, the boys seemed to throw themselves into their training. Murdy, a sophomore, elbowed his way to the front of the pack. Bayron is running on tired legs, but he’s already way ahead of his aerobic training goals.
Sean Garrison was last year’s frontrunner, and he’s ready to race against the top runners in the state as a junior. Senior co-captains Jack Myers and Bayron were also on last year’s postseason roster. With the rapid growth of the underclassmen, Southington could be well ahead of schedule and ready to take on their elite conference right out of the gate.
“After last year’s cross country season, some of our freshmen boys decided that this was the sport for them. They decided to dedicate themselves to do what they needed to do,” said Dachelet. “They might have been just typical freshmen last year. They might not have been that impressive, but over the course of the indoor/outdoor track season and the summer, we had a large group that really started to do what they needed to do to get better.”
Now Tom and Mark Murdy, both sophomores, are running with the upperclassmen. Sophomores Adam Theriault, Jake Aparo, and Dylan Breutzmann are ready to take on the varsity challenge. Up-and-coming seniors Chris Falk and Luke Nichols are ready to join the top group, and all those names mean that Southington is deeper than Dachelet could have imagined in the spring.
“It’s almost like we didn’t miss a beat,” said the coach. “Once we start getting fresh legs, I really think that our top five will be packed right in there. There’s very little separation between them, so I’m hoping to get in the workouts to make sure we have a 30-45 second spread between all of them. There’s a little bit of a fall off at the No. 6 spot, but we’re going to keep working to close that gap. We have a couple of guys working their way up.”
Dachelet was pleased to learn that his boys were no satisfied with being a rebuilding team. Like the girls team, the Blue Knights are focused on the state open championship. In fact, they crunched their own numbers to prove to their coach that it was a realistic goal.
“I printed out all these sheets for them with other teams and their times. We sat down for about a half hour, and they started saying—this one’s a senior, this one’s graduated,” Dachelet said. “They really analyzed it from a statistical standpoint, and they realized that if they met their goals we could do it. They said that they could make the state open, and they know what they have to do to get there. You can see it over the summer with their numbers, so let’s see if they can do it at the actual races.”
To prepare for the postseason, Dachelet will try to balance the dual meet season with the big invitational meets. Southington will be tested at every step, but the coach is hopeful about the end result.
“The conference duals are in the back of my mind, but it’s really about getting ready for the big races at the end of the season,” he said. “Watching these young guys stepping up for the first time is really an experience. We have sophomores pushing our seniors, and that’s pretty exciting.”
Now, the Knights are ready to prove it to their fans. This is no rebuilding year.
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By John Goralski