By Jon Goralski
The pain was etched across her face as Gabi Napoli clawed her way toward the finish line. Southington’s frontrunner, Lauren Perkowski, was still in her sights, and the junior runner hobbled up the final hill in hot pursuit.
On Wednesday, Oct. 15, fallen runners littered the Wickham Park course when a wave of hot and humid air enveloped the race, but Napoli wasn’t about to give up. Despite an injury that would end her junior season, the Lady Knight runner edged an opponent for 24th place as Southington runners surged into the top group at the annual conference meet.
“The goal was to get as many as possible under 50th place, and the bulk of them did that,” said Southington cross country coach Dan Dachelet. “The majority of our girls finished faster than I thought they would do. They were already on track to do something like this, but some of them had spectacular performances.”
Napoli was certainly one of them.
Lauren Perkowski (21:22.99) paced the Knights with a top 20 performance on the rugged, hilled course. Despite her injury, Napoli (21:28.34) finished in the top 25. Catherine Myers (221:38.0) managed to break into the top 30 overall, and all three of the Southington frontrunners are on the short list for all-conference consideration.
“The best thing about this race is that there’s still some room for improvement,” said Dachelet. “It isn’t like this was just our best race of the season. Every race has been a stepping stone and an opportunity to improve. The idea is to peak at the state meet and move onto the state open.”
Four of Southington’s five scorers clawed their way into the top 50 out of the 164-person field. Amanda Hamel (21:57.53) finished 36th. Sarah Minkiewicz (22:40.47) scored just outside the top 50. Carson Stifel (23:01.26) and Megan Albert (23:36.4) didn’t count in the team score, but even they finished in the top half of the field.
Tolland (28) scored five girls in the top 10 to run away with the overall title. Glastonbury (57) scored five runners in the top 25 to claim second place, but Southington (162) finished just behind Conard (116) and EO Smith (141) in the top five.
“Tolland’s probably the No. 2 team in the northeast, and almost every girl on that team is going to go on to run in college on some sort of scholarship,” Dachelet said. “You have the same thing with Glastonbury, so they take up 14 places in the top group. That only leaves a handful of places for the rest of us, so it was an incredible performance for us.”
The Knights surged past perennial powers like Simsbury (214) and Hall (255) to leapfrog into second place in the CCC West standings, but Dachelet said that the performance was certainly no fluke. The coach said that his team could score even better when they return to Wickham Park this Saturday for the Class LL championships.
The Knights will have to compete without Napoli, but Dachelet still expects his team to compete at the top.
“It’s going to affect us, but we’re going to look at some of the other girls stepping up,” said the coach. “The good thing about this squad is that we don’t really have a frontrunner. The difference between our No. 1 and our No. 6 place is about 40 seconds. If everybody steps up, we can still cover it as a group. But everyone’s going to have to step up because Gabi’s a good runner for us.”
The girls weren’t the only ones to raise the bar at the first postseason race. Sean Garrison (17:30.32) broke into the top 10, placing seventh overall in the varsity race. Jack Myers (18:00.38) finished in the top 30, and both are in the hunt for all-conference honors.
“Sean went for it and laid it all out on the course. He’s not a kicker, so he had to really step up in the middle of the course, and he did great,” said Dachelet. “Jack Myers had a fantastic race. It wasn’t necessarily his fastest time, but considering the conditions it was an excellent race.”
Brandon Bayron (18:58.38), Tom Murdy (19:33.75), and Adam Theriault (19:43.24) each finished in the top 100 as Southington surged into the top 10 out of 30 teams. Hall (40) out-distanced Glastonbury (79) and Simsbury (116) for the top spot, but the Knights (297) finished just three points behind Bristol Central (294) and edged Rocky Hill (312) for ninth place overall.
Anthony Riccio (19:49.79) and Mark Murdy (21:07.55) contributed to the boys team, and Dachelet expects both the boys and girls to compete at the Class LL meet this Saturday. The coach said that both teams have a chance to compete for a state open bid.
“If the stars align, they all have great races, and things happen to some of the other teams, it’s not outside the realm of the possible. We could potentially make it to the opens. That was our goal at the start of the season, and it’s still within our reach,” he said. “Whether they make the open or don’t make the open, I’m still looking for us to run that peaking race. We’ve set up this whole season to peak for one given day. That day is Saturday.”
The race is scheduled for this Saturday at Wickham Park. The Class LL girls race is scheduled to start at 1 p.m. with the boys race following at 1:35 p.m.
“I want to see them end on a high note,” said Dachelet. “For the ones that move on, I’d like them to think that they ran a great race. For the younger ones, I want it to validate their training against good competition.”
To comment on this story or to contact sports writer John Goralski, email him at email@example.com.
By Jon Goralski