By KEVIN ROBERTS
Southington boys cross country was looking toward the future while it competed in 2018.
The Blue Knights were trying to build toward 2019, and they return some key runners. Seniors Matt Penna and Lucca Riccio, both All-CCC West Region performers in 2018, are looking for breakout campaigns this season. Penna and Riccio are joined in the top three by senior Ryan Asido. Penna, Riccio and Asido are all captains.
“We have a solid top three with a ton of depth from four on down,” coach Dan Dachelet said. “It’ll be tough each week to decide who’s going to run varsity.”
Ryan Slesinski was the lone graduate from 2018 who ran in the postseason meets. Slesinski and Strong were the senior captains in 2018.
One positive sign for Southington in the 2019 preseason was how well the top five boys ran in the time trials.
“The boys ran a minute faster as a top five group than any other time [in my past seasons],” Dachelet said. “The boys team had an amazing summer worth of base mileage and they are in great shape.”
Dachelet said he thinks this Southington boys cross country could be the deepest he’s had in his six seasons as head coach. Also returning for the Knights this season are sophomore Grayson Borla, along with juniors Jackson Landino, Kevin Le, Evan Kristopik and Jared Rivera. Borla, Landino, Le and Kristopik all ran in the CCC championship meet in 2018. Kristopik finished fourth behind Penna, Riccio and Asido in the preseason time trial. He was followed by freshmen Drew Nafis and Jake Nafis in fifth and sixth; Landino in seventh; junior Michael Ditota in eighth; Borla in ninth; and Rivera in 10th. Dachelet believes Southington could be as deep as 13 or 14 runners on varsity.
“These guys are really pushing each other in workouts and we’re very excited to see them in meets,” Dachelet said.
The talent is there for a big season, but the Knights will have plenty of tough competition to deal with. Conard, Hall and Glastonbury will all be near the top. All three of those teams are in the CCC West Region with the Knights. Conard and Hall are in the same division—Colonial—as Southington.
“We could be a .500 team or even worse and easily make it to state open,” Dachelet said. “Our goal is just to run smart races at a level that they’re capable. Wins and losses aren’t that important. We need to be consistent with our races. If we win so be it. I’ll take top times on tough courses anytime over that ‘W’ against a school like Conard, which is gunning for a New England trip.”
Southington finished 10th overall out of 28 teams in the 2018 CCC championship meet at Manchester’s Wickham Park. They were fourth out of eight teams in the CCC West Region, which just showed how strong the teams were in that region last season. The Knights had a tough day at the Class LL state meet, where they finished 19th out of 25.
Individually, Penna was 13th in the CCC West while Riccio was 22nd. They were followed by Asido, Slesinski, Borla, Landino, Le and Kristopik, who finished 30th, 31st, 32nd, 34th, 36th and 43rd. Penna took 28th overall in the CCC while Riccio finished 50th. Penna had the top finish at the Class LL state meet, where he placed 46th.
Penna and Riccio will be the runners to look out for. They may not be in the highest echelon of the league, but that’s not because of them. The CCC West is just that much of a bear.
“Matt and Lucca could break some school course records,” Dachelet said.
Southington opens the season on Tuesday, Sept. 10, against Glastonbury and Farmington at JB Williams Park in Glastonbury. The schedule will look different than in year’s past, and that’s intentional.
“This year we’ve set up our meet schedule with less invites so that each week we’re focusing on just one race whether it be a dual or an invite,” Dachelet said.
Southington could have a strong postseason if things come together. The talent is there, and the Knights have been working hard all offseason. The first test comes on Sept. 10.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Kevin Roberts, email him at KRoberts@SouthingtonObserver.com