By John Goralski
Dan Dachelet double checked the numbers and trotted up to the Southington tent with a broad grin. He called out to a varsity girl lounging on a blanket, and she turned to face her cross country coach.
“We finished fourth,” he cheered. “We beat Simsbury and Hall.”
The runner looked more tired than surprised. “Oh,” she said matter-of-factly. “That’s pretty good.”
On Saturday, Sept. 20, the Lady Knights placed three runners in the top 25 at the Stratton Brook Invitational meet in Simsbury, and only two teams fared any better. When Southington’s second alternate crossed the finish line, there were still six teams waiting for their fifth score.
The elite Simsbury race has become a showcase for some of the state’s top talent, and the Lady Knights were in striking distance of the frontrunners despite tired legs. The three teams that finished ahead of the Knights are all expected to reach the state open team, and that’s a good sign for the early season.
But there was no shock when the girls heard their final score even though their coach was excited by the team’s result at their first real challenge of the fall. This year the Lady Knights seem to expect it, and that might be the biggest sign that Southington is on the brink of something special.
The Lady Knights seem comfortable among the state’s elite.
“We didn’t rest for this race, so for them to do this is just fantastic,” said Dachelet. “We wanted to go out conservatively because we knew that those hills were there, and we wanted to gradually roll through the pack. Everybody did that.”
Up and down the lineup, Southington girls were posting personal bests. Five Lady Knights claimed top 20 finishes as junior varsity team scrambled to a second place finish. Five freshman scored top 20 finishes in the rookie race to lift the Knights to the top of the freshman team standings.
But when all five scorers finished in the top 50 of the varsity race, Dachelet had real reason to cheer. Southington’s two alternates, both underclassmen, would have finished at the front if it weren’t for small mistakes that led to falls on the course.
“We’ve still got some development. Carson Stifel was up there with our top two girls. If she could have stayed there, we would have been dangerous,” Dachelet said. “She fell down hard in the middle of the race, and so did Faith Ritchie. It’s a learning experience for some of them, so we’re going to keep training.”
Lauren Perkowski (21:46.61) led the Lady Knight charge with an 18th place finish. Gabi Napoli (21:50.59) and Catherine Myers (21:52.47) both finished in the top 25. Amanda Hamel (22:18.6) and Megan Albert (22:38.47) both finished within two minutes of the race winner.
Even with the falls, Stifel (22:50.06) and Ritchie (23:28.09) posted times that beat many veterans, and Dachelet said that the whole team could have done better if they didn’t push themselves so hard at a dual meet a few days earlier.
“We told them to back off on Tuesday, but they’re so competitive that nobody did. We had five people set PRs (personal records) at the dual meet when I told them to just tempo it,” said the coach. “This was a testament to their training and their effort.”
The boys were just as impressive with a 7th place finish in the varsity race. Sean Garrison (17:34.41) cracked the top 20 with his 17th place finish, and Southington finished all five scorers under 20 minutes on the challenging course.
Mark Murdy (17:59.31) finished 28th overall. Brandon Bayron (18:12.3) and Jack Myers (18:36.44) finished in the top 50, and Dylan Breutzmann (19:32.1) rounded out the scoring. Tom Murdy (20:23.47) and Jake Aparo (20:52.64) didn’t score, but even they posted good times on a course that featured the first big hill of the season.
“We had a lot of personal records on this course,” said Dachelet. “It wasn’t just their PR on this course. It was their overall best, and this isn’t an easy course to PR on. We went against three of the top 10 teams in the state, and our guys were hanging with them. We went out a little too hard. Nobody’s there yet because we still have dead legs, and that’s fine. We were looking to build confidence, and I think we did that.”
Now the Knights will have a little bit of time to train and rest their legs. This week, they’ll host the annual Sloper Relays on Friday, a fun relay-style event. The team will have one tri-team conference meet in late September, but their next invitational won’t be until early October at the Nonnewaug Invitational.
“They’re coming together, and we’re building the program,” said Dachelet. “We want to take this to the next level.”
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By John Goralski