By JOHN GORALSKI
On Friday, Dec. 19, Bailey Kahl landed in a spray of sand at the New Haven Athletic Center, and for the third time in the competition, officials signaled a foul. Southington’s pole vaulter didn’t reach the opening height. Kahl fouled on all three long jumps, but Blue Knight sprinting and field coach Connor Green wasn’t phased by the lack of field scoring at Southington’s first invitational meet.
“Bailey’s first jump was in the 18-foot-6 range, but he went over the board by less than an inch, so they called the foul. Then, he was called for fouls on the next two,” said the coach. “We know that he’s capable of jumping over 18 feet, and that’s what we’re taking away from this. We’ll take away some things to work on. I know that he’s usually pretty good at getting his mark. In this instance, it was just a little off today.”
In fact, Kahl was one of two Blue Knight long jumpers to finish in the top 10 at the Wesleyan Developmental Meet just a few days earlier, so the misses on opening day weren’t a big problem for the Blue Knight coaches. With limited time and facilities, the New Haven Invitational was more of a measuring stick than a real competition. Coaches were looking for effort. They were looking for potential, and that’s exactly what they got on the track and in the field.
“I think that really shows that we have some great potential,” said Green. “Eighteen feet is the qualifying mark for the state meet, and the fact that we have boys that are already jumping in the 17s and 18s this early in the season is a good sign. The only way to go is up.”
The indoor track team opened their season this week with two varsity competitions and a junior varsity meet. On Tuesday, Dec. 15, the Knights dominated a preseason developmental meet at Wesleyan University in Middletown. Despite limited events, Southington came away with three titles and a number of top 10 finishes.
“It was a unique meet. Runners had to choose either the 55m or the mile, and they didn’t have all of the field events,” said Southington running coach Dan Dachelet. “There were no other opportunities for any other race or event. Those are events that anyone—a sprinter, a mid-distance, or a distance runner—should be able to handle.”
Southington athletes didn’t disappoint, and the distance runners led the way. Sean Garrison (4:50.09) won the mile event by more than seven seconds, and Erin Angelillo (5:37.48) won the girls race. The Knights scored four boys in the top third of the 63-person field in the mile, while the girls team placed five runners in the top 10.
Across the field, Southington scored well. Tyler Cyr (9.86) edged Adam Dorau (9.88) for fifth place in the 55m hurdles, and Jessica Howe (8.2) placed ninth out of 111 sprinters in the girls 55m. Tyler Cyr, Kyle DeFrancesco, Vincent Zhang, and Garrison combined for a first place finish in the 1600m sprint medley (4:05.62).
“It was an opportunity to evaluate them so we can work on their strengths and weaknesses,” Dachelet said. “They are doing the things that they need to do this time of year in terms of their training. It’s all about the individuals. A six-minute mile might be an outstanding time for one runner, but for others a 5:40 might be a letdown. This was a benchmark. We tried to set individual goals, and that’s the way we’ll approach each meet. We want them all to have opportunities for individual success.”
In the field, Southington athletes were already flirting with state qualifying measures. Kahl (17’6”) and Austin Baumann (17’1”) finished in the top seven in the long jump. David Massabni (38’10”) finished sixth in the shot put. Kali Pliego (27’2”) and Amanda Howe (26’3.75”) climbed into the top 10 in the girls shot put event.
“The good thing about these early meets is that we can see where the kids are at,” said Green. “The fact that we’re throwing and jumping state qualifying marks already is a great sign. We still have two kids who are coming out from the football team to throw shot for us. Matt Steeves—a 40-foot shot putter—and Noah MacDonald, an offensive lineman. It’s his first time out with track, and he’s already throwing in the 30s. We could potentially have three guys over 40 feet by the end of the year.”
That trend continued into Friday’s meet in New Haven. It was the first chance to actually qualify for the postseason, and Southington scored three state-qualifying marks. Garrison (10:15.41) claimed a postseason berth with his fifth place finish in the 3200m. Angelillo (5:37.31) qualified in the 1600m, and Massabni cleared 38’7” in the shot put to earn his bid to the state meet in his first competition.
“It was a great competition,” said Dachelet. “Some of the best kids in the state were there, across the board. Our varsity did well, and we had a couple of kids qualify for states. We had other kids running just off their [personal records], and that’s what we were looking for. We just missed qualifying our relays, but we’ll get there over the next couple weeks.”
Even at the JV meet on Friday, Southington set some standards. Howe cleared 28’6” in the shot put to finish ninth overall. With her final throw, the freshman shot putter clinched a state qualifying distance.
“Now, we know that she can throw,” said Green. “We probably could have put her in the varsity meet, but that was my mistake.”
She’ll get another chance. Southington will compete this week at the annual Winter Relays, a fun, relay-style event, and they’ll begin to hone their skills for the next invitational competition after the New Year.