By BRIAN JENNINGS
Over the hills and through the open fields and woodlands of the 250 acre Manchester park, the boys and girls cross country teams got a preview to the postseason at the annual Wickham Invitational at Saturday, Oct. 10. It was the first chance to run the course at Wickham Park, which will serve as the site of the next few postseason races.
“We didn’t get a chance to compete at Wickham last year, since the conference championships fell so close to the meet,” said Southington coach Dan Dachelet. “It’s great to go from three duals in a row, where teams go head-to-head, and then step into a meet with nearly a hundred schools. It’s a great experience for the kids.”
Dachelet said that Southington had a choice to either run in the seeded race or unseeded race.
“We opted to run the varsity seeded race because it did a better job of simulating the depth of competition that we would be facing at the conference and state meets,” said Dachelet. “I wanted to give varsity a shot at running near the front of the pack.”
The boys team placed third (228, 1:28.40) out of 33 schools in the boys seeded race, behind Manchester (186, 1:28.03) and Guilford (188, 1:27.32).
All Southington boys that ran in the seeded race set personal records. Sean Garrison paved the way for the boys team with an eighth-place finish (16:45) out of 231 runners. Mark Murdy (17:20) cracked the top 20, and Tom Murdy (17:49) finished in the top 50. Conner Leone (18:21) and Adam Theriault (18:25) completed Southington’s scoring. Shane Leone (18:32) and Anthony Riccio (19:13) contributed.
The boys top five total time of 88:40 put them at fifth on the all-time list, beating the previous program record at the Wickham Invitational set on Oct. 6, 2001 (89:35).
Vann Moffett of East Lyme finished first (16:19) in the boys seeded race. Manchester placed first (186, 1:28.03) in the points rankings, while Guilford placed first (188, 1:27:32) by time.
The girls team placed second (132, 1:45.40) out of 31 schools in the girls seeded race, behind Avon (127, 1:45.01), and all Southington girls that ran in the seeded race set personal records.
Gabi Napoli guided the girls team with a ninth-place finish (20:30) out of 197 runners. Isabella Scalise (21:10), Lauren Perkowski (21:16), Marisa Matthews (21:18), and Sarah Minkiewicz (21:26) scored for the Knights with top 40 finishes. Catherine Myers (21:29) just missed the top 40, and Laini Pizzitola (22:31) contributed just outside the top 75.
The girls top five total time of 105:40 was 2:39 faster than Southington’s best all time score, set at the Class LL state meet on Oct. 26, 2013 (108:19). The previous all-time record set at the Wickham Invitational was October 6, 2012 (117:10).
Samantha Drop of Coginchaug Regional finished first (19:23) in the girls seeded race with Avon placing first (127, 1:45:01) as a team.
“On the ladies side, we put five in the top 36, which is about what I expect us to be at the conference and state meets,” said Dachelet. “Once again with both squads, we’re in uncharted territory with this group of student-athletes…The fact that we’re doing this on very tired legs is even more remarkable. We have to keep our eyes on peaking for the state open, and that means continuing to put in the work at this mid-point in the season.”
Earlier in the week on Tuesday, the Knights hosted Simsbury at Camp Sloper.
The girls team won their race 25-31, while the boys won their race in a tiebreaker, 28-28, making it their closest victory on the year.
Garrison gave the boys team their best mark with a second-place finish (17:13). Mark Murdy (17:52), Tom Murdy (18:16), Theriault (18:42), and Conner Leone (18:46) scored. However, it was Shane Leone’s 10th-place finish (18:47) that gave the boys team the win over Simsbury in the tiebreaker.
Simsbury’s Solomon Davis finished first (17:11) in the race.
Napoli (21:21) paced all runners in the girls race, edging Scalise (21:24) by a few seconds for the top spot. Perkowski (22:00), Myers (22:14), and Matthews (22:34) scored.
“This meet was a good confidence builder for both sides,” said Dachelet. “After two straight losses, it was good to walk away with a (boy’s) win, especially against a team that’s been ranked in the top 10 since preseason. The ladies had another tight pack with the top seven coming in just over a minute from each other.”
Next up for the Knights is a home dual meet against Hartford Public and New Britain on Tuesday, Oct. 13 as they prepare for the CCC Championships, which is scheduled to take place at Wickham Park on Wednesday, Oct. 21.