Cross country sets a strong pace in week one



Southington’s cross country programs sprinted into the fall season with a pair of wins in their first dual meet and a pair of top-five performances in their first fall invitational. More importantly, the Knights managed to shake off those first-meet nerves and beat out some of the top competition of the CCC.

“We’re going from a good team to a great team,” said Southington assistant coach Connor Green. “We’re starting to put together all the pieces that are needed to really take that next step, and I think these first couple of meets are signs of that. I’m excited to see what’s going to happen over the coming months.”

Dual at Manchester

SEPT. 12—Both programs began their seasons with victories against Manchester at Wickham Park. The boys team won, 24-33, and the girls team won, 24-32.

“It was a really hot day, so the times weren’t as fast, and the course was a little bit slower,” said Green. “You have to do the green monster twice at Wickham Park, so that definitely made it tougher.”

Conner Leone paced the boys team with a second-place performance, running a time of 17:26. Shane Leone (18:07), Sean Young (18:18), Ryan Slesinski (18:20), and Matthew Penna (18:34) scored. Jeffrey Hannigan (18:58) and Ben Palladino (19:33) contributed.

Green said that he liked the team’s depth. Southington’s second and sixth male runners were just 51 seconds apart from one another.

Julia Michnowicz, above emerged as Southington’s frontrunners at the team’s first invitational, but Isabella Scalise set the pace at the girls’ first dual meet.

“They’re really getting after it,” the coach said. “They’re finishing in somewhat a similar order, but they really push hard to pack it up and get in front of as many guys as they can.”

Manchester’s Joe Pearl (17:07) won the boys race.

“Joe Pearl is a phenomenal runner,” said Green. “I think he’s actually ran 16:30s on that course. I think he was just out there doing a tempo going for the win, but Conner did a great job of staying with him for the majority of the race. It helped push him to a good time.”

Isabella Scalise paced the girls with a second-place performance, running a time of 21:58. Sarah Minkiewicz (22:00), Julia Michnowicz (22:30), Kailey Schmarr (23:13), and Natalia Adamczyk (23:33) scored. Taylor Borla (24:24) and Amanda Perkowski (26:10) contributed.

“That pack mentality was what we were going for,” the coach said. “When we have our girls finish two, three, five, six, and eight in the top five, that’s excellent. That’s what you hope for.”

Manchester’s Kate Hedlund (21:13) won the girls race.

Stratton Brook Invite

SEPT. 16—In the first invitational of the season, Southington traveled to Stratton Brook State Park in Simsbury to compete at the 37th annual Stratton Brook Invitational.

Conner Leone (17:10) marshaled Southington with a fifth place finish out of 73 runners in the boys large schools varsity race.

Canton’s Maximillian Sparks (16:33) finished as the runner-up of last year’s boys large schools varsity race by four seconds, but he won this year’s event. A strong Staples team produced five runners under 18 minutes.

Even under the gun of all that pressure, Green said that Conner Leone did a great job of staying with the lead pack when it started to break away around the last 400 meters.

Conner Leone emerged as Southington’s frontrunners this week, leading the Knights in two races.

“It’s a newer experience for him, but to already be running 17:10 is a good way to start the season,” said Green. “I think that time is number three on our all-time list at Southington for this course.”

Southington showed its depth with their second and sixth harriers, separated by only 48 seconds at the finish line. Conner Leone, Shane Leone (18:04), Sean Young (18:08), Jeff Hannigan (18:39), and Penna (18:48) scored as Southington placed third place in place scoring behind Staples and Bristol Central but leapfrogged the Rams to take second in overall time.

Slesinski (18:52) and Palladino (19:12) contributed.

“That’s what’s going to make a really big difference for us down the road at the conference and state meets,” the coach said. “It’s having a really good pack of runners.”

The girls team tied for third behind Glastonbury and RHAM in place scoring, but held sole possession of third place based on times. Instead of usual front runner Scalise, it was Michnowicz this time who guided the Lady Knights by finishing 14th overall out of 54 runners with a time of 22:01.

“Our girls team’s kind of at the point now where there’s just a lot of depth,” the coach said. “There’s no longer that typical front runner anymore. They’re pretty much all interchangeable within that top seven, and that’s a good problem to have.”

Michnowicz had suffered multiple injuries over the past couple of years, but she found a recipe that worked for her coming into this season. An immense dose of hiking over the summer, as opposed to hard impact running, was the right ingredient she needed.

“Her fitness levels are 100 percent where they should be,” said Green. “Now, she’s able to produce how we expected her to. The more confidence she has, the faster she’s going to run.”

Michnowicz, Minkie-wicz (22:14), Adamczyk (22:32), and Scalise (22:51) scored. Schmarr (23:18) and Laini Pizzitola (23:36) contributed.

Manchester’s Kate Hedlund (20:14) won the race.

Southington will be back on the trails this week when they travel to Fisher Meadow for a meet with Avon and Conard on Tuesday, Sept. 19. Southington is also scheduled to host the Sloper Relays on Friday, Sept. 22. Both programs are currently 1-0 overall.

 For this week’s box scores, click here: ( To contact sports writer Brian Jennings, email him at


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