By BRIAN JENNINGS
Since the event’s inception of the Connecticut middle school state cross country state championships were established 24 years ago, neither DePaolo Middle School nor Kennedy Middle School have competed. On Saturday, Nov. 5, the locals finally made their debut at the Wickham Park, Manchester race.
As two of the biggest middle school cross country programs in the state—with almost 220 athletes combined—it was thought that local rules prohibited DePaolo and Kennedy from competing on the weekends. But coaches did their homework and discovered that wasn’t exactly the case.
“When I asked if we could go to this meet, the initial reply was that we weren’t allowed to compete on the weekends,” said Rich Niro, head coach of DePaolo’s cross country program. “No one was really sure. It took us a lot of time before someone researched and found that wasn’t the rule in the book. We just couldn’t practice on the weekends.”
The DePaolo girls placed fifth out of 49 teams with a time of 1:17:38. Morgan Hubert paced the team with a time of 14:34.81.
“She ran fabulously,” said Niro. “We’ve been watching her for a long time, so we knew how good she was to see her on that stage in that lead pack. She was only 11 seconds off of the leader, but I really think that if it was a 5K, it may have even been closer than that.
Hubert finished third out of 391 runners in the girls A race.
“She’s got a great mix of talent and work ethic, and she’s just a great racer,” the coach said. “I’ve coached a lot of great athletes at the high school, but she’s one of the best I’ve ever coached.”
Lauren Verrilli (15:10.09), Megan Bissoni (15:53.49), Jacqueline Izzo (15:55.49), Kaitlyn Asido (16:21.4), Sofia Scalise (16:30.19), and Isabelle Hoffman (16:51.46) contributed as well.
“We knew that the girls team was going to be good,” said Niro. “They were all back from last year and were one of the drives to get us to that meet. They really deserved a chance to compete on that stage.”
The Kennedy girls placed 12th with a total time of 1:20:35. Abbie Kennedy (15:32.87) marshaled the team by finishing 40th. Emily Moskal (15:51.82), Jasmine Hallett (15:58.29), Megan Wadman (16:44.61), Hailey Zaczynski (16:45.8), Emma Swindon (17:03.12), and Nicole Szuba (18:12.05) contributed as well.
The DePaolo boys placed 17th out of 58 teams with a time of 1:12:54. Michael Ditota (13:49.87) directed the team by finishing 43rd out of 446 runners in the boys A race.
“Mike’s been the lead dog all year,” said Niro. “He ran really well this season, but I would love to see him run another season because I feel like he’s just learning how to race. He didn’t quite make our top seven last year, but he got to go out there this year and lead a lot of races. That whole race and experience was new to him. You could just see him learning how to be a racer.”
Jack Tedone (14:30.46), Drew Nafis (14:35.66), Jake Nafis (14:52.27), Ryan Delmonte (15:03.32), Nathan Cofrancesco (15:21.34), and Ricky Macioce (15:25.06) contributed as well.
The Kennedy boys placed 29th with a time of 1:15:44. Jared Rivera (14:13.31) headed the team by finishing 84th. Grayson Borla (14:46.62), Christian Rivera (15:02.64), Gavin Michaud (15:37.84), Jordan Cyr (16:01.19), Tyler Lombardo (16:10.96), and Eric Orsini (16:19.2) contributed as well.
Shalyn Noble (12:22.33) led DePaolo with a 23rd-place finish, and Diane Pillsbury (13:12.84) led Kennedy with an 80th-place finish in the girls B West race. Jackson Landino (11:04.34) led DePaolo with a 12th-place finish, and Robert Nadile (11:43.34) led Kennedy with a 64th-place finish in the boys B West race.
Niro said that running in Saturday’s championship races will definitely have a beneficiary effect on the program going forward into next season.
“It gives us something to talk about when we talk about the work that has to be done over the summer to be successful,” said Niro. “People now have something to picture and an event to hang their hat on. When you get there, you realize that you’re on the top level in the state, and we can compete there.”