By BRIAN JENNINGS
They dashed through the woods, sprinted around the lake, leapt over bails of hay, and trudged their way through the mud. Instead of running a standard race, high school and middle school cross country teams gathered to run in teams of two or four athletes in the fifth annual Sloper Relays at Camp Sloper on Friday, Sept. 25.
Nine different divisions all started at the same starting line to the sound of the same gun, with each leg distancing at 1.5 miles. The meet has grown in the last two years, going from 400 to 900 athletes and 40 teams this year, but a new feature that was added to the course was a 100-foot mud pit, along with some hay bales for each leg.
“My thought after my first year as head coach was that if you’re going to make it a fun meet, let’s really make it a fun meet,” said Southington coach Dan Dachelet. “With that in mind, I began trying to figure out a way to add an optional mud pit and hay bale barriers. I was fortunate this year that Camp Sloper had just leveled their BMX course on the far side of their property. This became the perfect test grounds for adding this element to our race.
However, the idea of adding the mud pit didn’t come without complications.
“We honestly didn’t know what we were in for with the dry of a summer we had,” said Dachelet. “After tilling the mud pit for hours, it was still way too hard for us to add water. The Southington Fire Department, along with 4,000 gallons of water, was the perfect answer to our problems. Without their help, we would have likely had to abandon our idea of having the mud obstacle.”
The Middle School Division of 360 middle school runners was also added to last year’s meet, including over 100 runners each from DePaolo and Kennedy Middle Schools.
“My goal is to grow the running program in Southington, and the middle and elementary school running programs are crucial to the efforts,” said Dachelet. “I wanted a chance to show them how much of a carnival cross country can be with thousands of kids competing with music, laughter, and energy.”
In the high school races, Laini Pizzitola-Isabella Scalise topped the charts with a first-place finish (40:53) in the Two Girls Division, followed by Payton Chiaro-Gabriella Zuk in 13th (49:30).
Conner Leone-Anthony Riccio finished fifth (34:52, seventh overall) in the Two Boys Division, followed by Nicholas Benham-Jordan McMeans right behind in sixth (35:28, ninth overall), and Matthew Garry-Jacob Mohr in 20th (38:12).
Tom Murdy-Catherine Myers took second (36:28) in the One Boy/One Girl Division.
Sarah Minkiewicz-Ashley Nafis-Anna Shugrue-Carson Stifel finished fourth (41:39) in the Four Girls Division, followed by Marisa Matthews-Jami Pliego-Kali Pliego-Samantha Schiffer right behind in fifth (42:57), and Cicily Balachandar-Kayleigh Carmichall-Ashley Kane-Kim Stafko in seventh (47:06).
Dylan Breutzmann-Jeffrey Hannigan-Shane Leone-Adam Theriault led all Southington runners by snatching first place (33:54, third overall) in the Four Boys Division, followed by Zach Burleigh-Joseph Lee-Nick Ragozzine-Ethan Rathbun in seventh (40:17).
Sean Garrison-Mark Murdy-Gabi Napoli-Lauren Perkowski also had a first-place finish (34:26, sixth overall), placing at the top of the list in the Four Co-Ed Division, followed by Abi Asklar-Hannah Comparone-Christopher McManus-James Weil in fifth (40:27), and Michael Dorsey-Teagan Duffy-Taylor Harton-Kelly Koba in 10th (40:44).
“Sean Garrison, Lauren Perkowski, Gabi Napoli, and Mark Murdy wanted to eclipse their own meet record for the Co-Ed 4×1.5-mile relay,” said Dachelet. “They managed to do that by over 40 seconds, resulting in the only Sloper Relays record being beaten. All of them turned in the top four times on the course that day over the distance.”
Natalia Adamczyk-Asami Castellano-Ashley Schiffer-Diane Williams finished first (47:10), as the only team to compete in the Four Freshmen Girls Division, while Tyler Bade-Ben Hoffman-Ben Palladino-Luke Tedeschi finished second (38:15) in the Four Freshmen Boys Division. Bade also ran with Zachary Christensen-Tyler Garry-Robert Sisto to finish in ninth (43:37).
Taylor Borla-Amanda Perkowski-Ryan Slesinski-Tyler Strong finished first (39:03) in the Four Co-Ed Freshmen Division, competing against one other team.
In the Girls Middle School Division, DePaolo finished first (37, 53:33) out of five schools. Kennedy finished in third (71, 56:49). In the Boys Middle School Division, DePaolo finished second (64) by place and third (48:20) by time. Kennedy finished third (65) by place and second (48:17) by time.
Morgan Hubert (seventh grade) not only led DePaolo, but she led all runners as well with a first-place (9:46), followed by Lauren Verrilli (seventh grade) in third (10:15), and Megan Bissoni (sixth grade) in sixth (10:45).
“Morgan Hubert is going to be a rock star in cross country over the next two years,” said Dachelet.
Emma Doran (eighth grade) led Kennedy with a fifth-place finish (10:44), followed by Brooke Lynch (eighth grade) in ninth (10:49), and Jasmine Hallett (seventh grade) in 10th (10:53).
Aiden Reilly (eighth grade) led Kennedy with a fifth-place finish (9:18), followed by Ryan Barretta (eighth grade) in 10th (9:32), and Austin Carta (eighth grade) in 14th (9:43). John Carreiro (eighth grade) led DePaolo with a sixth-place finish (9:23), followed by Ryan Asido (eighth grade) in 12th (9:39), and Chris Chaplinsky (eighth grade) in 13th (9:40).
“JFK and DePaolo had fantastic showings,” said Dachelet. “Most invitationals take place on Saturdays and provide a festive atmosphere like this, but unfortunately Southington middle schools can’t participate due to regulations, which prohibit competition on Saturdays. Luckily, Sloper Relays is and will continue to be on a Friday so that our schools are allowed to participate.”
What was once started by former Southington cross country coach, Rich Niro, and Wethersfield cross country coach, Jeff Sanborn, the Sloper Relays was added to different school’s schedule as a fun meet to the season.
“Runners are often deluged with races twice a week, racing up to 10k per week,” said Dachelet. “As coaches, we have to find ways to lessen the racing load, and Sloper Relays is a perfect recipe for this.”
Next up for the Blue Knights is a dual meet against Conard and Hall at the West Hartford Reservoir on Friday, Oct. 2.
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