By John Goralski
It hasn’t been that long since the Lady Knight cross country team had to fight just to get noticed. It’s only been a few seasons since they’ve begun to turn heads. Last year might have been the first time that the girls overshadowed the boys team at each of the postseason meets.
Now the girls have a new coach, a new attitude, and new expectations. All but one runner has returned from last season’s team, and the Lady Knights are poised for something special. When first-year coach Dan Dachelet met with his team for the very first time, he was surprised by their determination.
Sure, he had high expectations coming in, but the girls were already one step ahead of him.
“I really didn’t try to press their goals this year, but they said that they wanted to make the state open,” said the coach. “I didn’t come up with it. They did.”
No girls team has overcome that obstacle, but Dachelet said that numbers don’t lie. He poured through the statistics. He reviewed his team’s off-season work, and he jumped on board with the girls’ goal.
“I crunched the numbers,” he said. “If they can run just 80 seconds faster as a group—and that’s under just 20 seconds per person—they would have made it to the state opens last year. Even if 80 seconds sounds like a lot, it’s really just the normal progression from year to year. You hope to drop that much every single year, so I think it’s pretty doable.”
Last season, the Lady Knights battled to a 3-4 record in the CCC West but managed to crack the top 10 at the conference meet. The following week, the Knights surged up to 7th place at the Class LL race. Lauren Perkowski and Gabi Napoli finished in the top 50 at the state race. All seven Lady Knights finished in the top 100, and all but one of them have returned for another shot.
If early time trials are any indication, there are others that could challenge the returning starters. Over the summer, 19 girls attended running camps. The girls matched the boys in the race for off-season mileage, and all of that increases Southington’s chances of advancing in the postseason.
“The ladies have really done a great job. The top girls are very focused on improving themselves and trying to be top runners in the conference,” said Dachelet. “We’re deep. At the time trial, the spread between our No. 3 and our No. 10 girl was something like 30-45 seconds. That means that on any given day, you never know who is going to show up. I’ll have a lot of decisions as to who runs, and it’s great to have so many options.”
What makes it even better is that the girls are still running on fatigued legs after a grueling off-season regiment. As workouts taper by midseason, Southington runners should be able to find an even higher gear. As a result, Dachelet has shifted the focus from competing at conference dual meets to challenging the fields at weekend races.
The Lady Knights might not improve their regular season record, but that could pay off at the end of the season.
“The goal is to run well at the conference meet, the state meets, and the state open,” Dachelet said. “I like to see good times against good competition. In the dual meets, you might only have 40 or 45 kids on the course at any given time. If you can barely see the girl in front of you, how can that be a quality race? We might be backing off on some of the conference races just to rest the varsity so we can go after some fast times at the big invitational meets.”
Co-captains Megan Albert and Amanda Hamel will set the pace. Hamel was among the top runners last season, and Albert is one of the hardest trainers. Their leadership has already brought the team into step, and that will be a key to postseason success.
They will be joined in the front group by junior veterans Lauren Perkowski, Gabi Napoli, Jami Pliego, and senior Raquel Romano. Catherine Myers and Maggie Meehan broke into the postseason lineup as freshmen last year, and both have stepped up their workouts in the offseason.
“They have something to prove, and it’s not me that’s saying this stuff,” said Dachelet. “They are ready to take on some of these top teams, and they’ve never done anything like this before. They want to go after teams like Hall and Simsbury. I don’t know if we can do it, but they’ve got it in their minds that they’re going to try. That’s exciting.”
Will this be the team that finally breaks into the upper echelon at the state open? Try and stop them.
To comment on this story or to contact sports writer John Goralski, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By John Goralski