Stepping up for the state open: Cross Country teams are poised for a postseason sequel

SP Isabella Scalise at state open 111315By BRIAN JENNINGS

STAFF WRITER

The 2015 campaign was a memorable year for Southington’s cross country program, marking the first time that both the boys and girls teams qualified for the state open in the same season. It marked the first time this millennium that either team qualified for the final state competition.

The Lady Knights began the postseason by placing fifth at the CCC Championship and sixth at the Class LL Championship. The Knights then advanced to the state open as a team for the first time since the 1990s and placed 15th at the championship meet.

“We knew we had the potential and definitely went in with the goal of making the state open,” said Southington coach Dan Dachelet. “But after staying healthy the entire season and having everyone do what they needed to do at the state meet was something that the girls will never forget.”

The Knights lost nine seniors but just two postseason runners from last year’s squad, Gabi Napoli and Lauren Perkowski. Napoli was the team’s frontrunner, but after missing the conference meet, she returned to lead the Knights at the state meet and set a personal record of 20:09. Perkowski finished with the team’s second-best time at the conference meet and fourth-best times at the state meet and open.

“Losing two of our top five is tough,” the coach said. “A lot of people think that leads to a rebuilding year, but we had a gap of a minute and 15 seconds between the No. 1 and No. 12 runner. There’s no huge gap between our 12 runners.”

Although the Knights might not have a clear frontrunner entering this season, Dachelet said that great depth can make up for that. Currently, there is about a 20 to 30 second gap between the second to seventh runners, which is a luxury that a lot of coaches don’t have.

“The ability to see one of your teammates on the course and keep in touch with them is really important,” said Dachelet. “Having eyes on a teammate really drives and pushes you.”

In order to have a successful season, two major factors have to come into play. One of those is putting the training in over the summer, as Dachelet explains.

“A good chunk of the success of this team in the next three or four months is already done,” said Dachelet. “For some of the girls, their season lasted a little longer. They didn’t do two weeks of training because they were still doing track, but they still logged over 400 miles this summer. That’s a sizeable summer.”

SP CCC meet - Mark Murdy 3The other critical aspect is injury prevention and keeping runners healthy.

“It’s a long season,” the coach said. “Hopefully, we’re going all the way out to the state open and potentially beyond that. I have to ease them into all of these things.”

Senior co-captains Catherine Myers and Kim Stafko will lead the group, along with returning veterans Marisa Matthews and Maggie Meehan. Returning juniors include Sarah Minkiewicz, Laini Pizzitola, and Isabella Scalise.

Returning sophomores include Natalia Adamczyk, Kate Kemnitz, Julia Michnowicz, and Amanda Perkowski.

Dachelet stated that Glastonbury is still going to be the team to beat in the CCC Central-Blue, but Dachelet also labeled his girls team as contenders for the upcoming season title.

“All in all, I think we have a good shot to repeat at heading to the state open,” the coach said. “Kate Kemnitz joining us, plus some better times by returnees, should put us in a similar spot when we had Gabi and Lauren.”

Like the girls team, the boys team qualified for the state open as a team, making an appearance for the first time since 1999.

“Rich Niro worked incredibly hard with the guys and had some teams that were on the bubble,” said Dachelet. “But for whatever reason, they just came up a little bit short. I think it was very frustrating being that close over the years.”

Whether it was coming down to the last runner or the last couple of points, the Blue Knights almost suffered the same fate last year. However, the team just squeaked into the state open as one of the last teams to qualify as a result of a head-to-head competition with another team, placing 18th.

Before reaching the open, the Knights placed sixth at the CCC championship and 10th at the Class LL championship. Glastonbury (CCC), Amity (Class LL), and Staples (state open) were all victorious with postseason titles.

After being in unfamiliar territory at the state open, confidence and consistency might come as a cause for concern to most teams in the big races. But after getting a taste of what it’s like to run with the best in the state, competing at the open only left the Knights hungry for more.

“The guys were elated about being able to go to the open, and they definitely worked hard,” the coach said. “To put a season together from beginning to end and have high notes almost all the time is hard to do. That’s a lot of confidence, and I think these guys have that confidence still.”

Also labeled as contenders, Dachelet said that the large group of returning seniors has been very determined and focused for a long time.

“They’re really looking to do something special as they walk out the door as a class,” said Dachelet. “They are pumped and ready to repeat a state open appearance.”

The Knights enter this season with the task of having to make up about 30 seconds that all-conference frontrunner and team captain Sean Garrison produced for the team, but senior co-captains Mark Murdy, Tom Murdy, and Adam Theriault will lead the way. Returning juniors include Mike Dorsey, Jeffrey Hannigan, Conner Leone, Shane Leone, Anthony Riccio, and Sean Young.

Dachelet stated that Hall will be one of the teams to beat in CCC Central-Blue this season with the development of their freshman class. Dachelet also mentioned that Glastonbury is always a consistent contender, even though they graduated their top two runners. But the Knights will be sure to put up a good fight.

“I am expecting that the last nine months’ worth of training should result in faster top seven runners than last year’s state open-qualifying team,” the coach said.

One of the major changes that Dachelet said he made to both programs as a whole coming into this season was having the mindset of not thinking about the state open as the end goal. Instead, the end goal is running well at the state open.

“Last year, we made the state open and were excited about making it,” said Dachelet. “It was the icing on the cake and not the cake itself. The goal for this year is a strong performance at that meet. We can’t slough off at the end.”

The program also added out-of-state meets to their regular season schedule, which include trips to Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., Woods Trail in Thetford, Vt., and the Manhattan Invitational in New York.

The top 15 runners will experience the trend of overnight meets by racing at the largest race on eastern seaboard at the Manhattan Invitational. The trip will also feature a guided tour of Ellis Island by the national parks.

“I’ve always believed in taking the athletes to new meets,” the coach said. “I want to get them out of their comfort zone and rub elbows with great teams.”

The program is also very close to holding a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new half-mile trail on the high school’s campus. The trail is about eight feet wide and hugs the tree line around the athletic fields.

“It’ll allow us to do very fast workouts in the tree line and stay on campus,” said Dachelet. “We would like to have a soft surface to train on where we don’t have to dodge soccer balls and footballs when we’re running. That would be a huge asset for us.”

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