By BRIAN JENNINGS
Members of the Southington Blue Knights cross country team traveled to Bowdoin Park in Wappingers Falls, N.Y. on Saturday, Nov. 28 to compete against some of the best runners in the northeast at the 2015 Nike Cross Country Nationals Northeast Regional.
States represented at the meet included Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont.
Southington runners ran under the name, “Knights Running Club.” The girls team competed in the Northeast girls 5K championship race and placed 25th (545, 107:08.9) out of 28 teams.
Gabi Napoli (20:17.1) paced the Lady Knights, finishing 65th out of 216 runners. Lauren Perkowski (21:15.1), Isabella Scalise (21:42.7), Catherine Myers (21:46.9), and Marisa Matthews (22:07.1) scored. Sarah Minkiewicz (22:24.4) and Carson Stifel (25:03.4) contributed. Six of the seven Lady Knights gained speed throughout the course, running faster in the second half of the race than the first half.
Three girls competed in the open race. Laini Pizzitola (22:49.1) finished in the top 100 out of 243 runners. Jami Pliego (23:32.3) and Sam Schiffer (24:30.5) contributed.
The boys competed as a team in the open division, and placed 12th (446, 90:12.8) out of 58 teams.
Sean Garrison (17:16.4) scorched the course, finishing 10th overall in the open division. Mark Murdy (17:27.8) placed 15th. Tom Murdy (18:13.9), Adam Theriault (18:36.9), and Jordan McMeans (18:37.8) scored. Shane Leone (18:47.0), Conner Leone (19:00.7), Jeff Hannigan (19:18.6), and Anthony Riccio (19:36.1) contributed. As a group, the boys team ran 58 seconds faster in the second half of the race.
Every team that asks to participate in the championship race submits a resume of their season. A panel of coaches then looks at how teams have done at various races in relation to other teams on their known course. For Southington, their known course was Wickham Park in Manchester. The panel looks at course difficulty as well.
“I asked for both of my teams to be in the championship because some coaches don’t want their team in the championship,” said Blue Knight coach Dan Dachelet. “In relation to the competition that was out there, the board felt that our girls were able to be at the championship race, and our guys weren’t. We actually were told that our guys were in the race, and then a week before the event, they reduced the field size of the championship race and yanked us out of there.”
For Dachelet, Saturday’s race was the first time he got a glimpse of the Bowdoin Park course. He said that he would put the Bowdoin Park course on par with the Wickham Park course, in terms of difficulty.
“It narrows really quickly,” the coach said. “In some of these larger races, it’s difficult to open up. At this level, there is no fluff. You’ve got a huge pack right around 20 or 21 minutes. You have 70 percent of the kids that are within 40 seconds of each other, so there is a lot of jostling. Right at about the mile mark, there is a sizeable climb of a very steep hill that I think really took a toll on a lot of kids, especially the ones that were too hyped up and went out too fast.”
Light rain throughout the morning also served as a minor obstacle for runners.
“When it’s that cold outside, you get wet and it’s not a good thing,” said Dachelet. “We had a small tent, and kids tried to stay warm and dry. We had our first race at 9:30 in the morning and our last race at just about two. It was a long day of hanging out.”
The Nike Cross Country Nationals is set up as a festival-style race. About 2,200 runners arrive on Friday night and a pasta dinner is waiting for them, followed by the night spent in an accommodated hotel. On the course, a live DJ plays music for the entertainment of the runners. A tent is also set up aside for runners to customize their cleats special laces and different colored spikes. Hats and t-shirts are also sold.
“It was a good atmosphere,” the Knights coach said. “It’s tough to stay motivated and get pumped for a race like this after you’ve had a long, successful season. And they did that. They did a great job of staying focused. By and large, I think we raced at a peak level with probably about 80 percent of our kids. That’s about as much as you can ask for at this level when you’re running in the middle of the pack.”