By BRIAN JENNINGS
Southington set a bar high after sending both cross country teams to last year’s state open. The Knights wanted nothing less than a repeat performance, but that wasn’t meant to be.
Although they did not qualify a full team for the state open at the Class LL Championship at Wickham Park in Manchester on Saturday, Oct. 29, a pair of Blue Knights—Mark Murdy and Conner Leone—are still running further into the postseason, Conner Leone and Mark Murdy and Conner Leone earned a chance to represent the program.
“They were both very determined,” said Blue Knight coach Dan Dachelet. “I don’t know how much of it was bravado, but they were very adamant beforehand and felt like that had it. They were really confident going into this meet. They said what they were going to do and wiped away last week and not dwell on the past.”
Dachelet said that coming off of an 80-degree day a week earlier at the CCC Championship may have had an effect on the Southington runners.
“In endurance sports, the mental aspect is huge,” he said. “A positive race leading into the state championship may have had a different effect on the girls team versus the boys team.”
Dachelet said that the program is still trying to figure out what changes need to be made heading into next season, in order to improve. One of those concerns is the grueling out-of-state meet schedule.
“They were fun, but they didn’t give us the exposure against the other teams that we were going to face in the state meet,” said the coach. “There is something to be said about beating a local rival at a bigger invitational.”
The boys team placed 12th overall out of 25 teams. Staples won the boys Class LL title, followed by Danbury and Xavier. Mark Murdy (16:53) paced the Blue Knights with his personal best in a 5K race, finishing 25th out of 180 runners.
“He led the team the entire year and was a positive as a great captain, in terms of the leadership he provided to the team,” said Dachelet. “They had a bad race last week, and I think he helped refocused their adrenaline, calming them down and making them realize what they could do.”
Conner Leone (17:16) didn’t trail too far behind, setting a personal best and finishing in the top 40.
“He didn’t have a great race at the conference meet, struggling with the heat and breathing,” the coach said. “He was aggressive from the get-go of the Class LL race, putting himself in that position. You’re moving when you anywhere near the front of that pack in the 30s. He did what he needed to do to get that contact and get on the pace he needed to get on. He got out from the gun and did a fantastic job.”
Tom Murdy (17:21), Jordan McMeans (18:08), and Shane Leone (18:29) scored. Ryan Slesinski (18:33), and Adam Theriault (19:01) contributed.
Ridgefield won the girls race, followed by Glastonbury and Staples. Southington placed 12th out of 19 teams.
Isabella Scalise (21:04) paced the Lady Knights with a 35th place finish, followed closely by Marisa Matthews (21:38) and Catherine Myers (21:59). Kate Kemnitz (22:05) and Sarah Minkiewicz (22:16) scored. Natalia Adamczyk (22:17) and Laini Pizzitola (22:31) contributed.
“The girls ran tough, and I don’t think anyone thought that they had a bad race,” said Dachelet. “It just wasn’t as fast as we would have liked to have gone. We finished the race and we generally surprised when they saw the times. I don’t think that we set our goals too high, but I have to take a long hard look at what I have been doing with them up to this put with their training.”
The race marked the end of Southington’s team schedule, but Murdy and Leone will return to Wickham Park on Friday, Nov. 6 for the state open and a chance to advance to the New England championship. The race is scheduled to start at 2 p.m.
“We started preparing for this meet at the very beginning of the year by saying that going to the state open was not just the icing on the cake for the season,” the coach said. “It was a race that we were going to show up for and actually race in. We weren’t going to go through the motions and just be happy that we made it there. Having that mindset from day one is what will help to benefit them.”