By KEVIN ROBERTS
Southington cross country runners wound their way through the New Jersey woods, along a creek, and over a wooden bridge. That’s when things got really interesting. On Saturday, Sept. 29, Blue Knight runners fought hard to stay ahead of the stampede—literally—during one of the most unique races of the fall.
“Run, don’t walk,” is actually stated in the rules as runners sprint through the Animal Safari at the Six Flags Great Adventure & Safari Wild Safari Invitational in New Jersey. The course winds its way through the park for 1.1 miles before plunging into the park’s safari road.
The 5K varsity race had five varsity divisions. The 5K junior varsity race had three divisions, while the 3200-meter freshmen race had two divisions. The Southington varsity boys and varsity girls competed in the Varsity A race. The junior varsity boys took part in the Junior Varsity A race. The freshmen boys and girls took part in the Freshman A races. All of the races took place on Saturday at the theme park, which is located in Jackson, N.J.
The Southington boys varsity team finished third out of 24 squads with a score of 116. The winner was North Rockland of Thiells, N.Y., with a score of 66. Riverside High School of Leesburg, Va., was second with a score of 79. Freshman Jake Nafis led the Blue Knights with a sixth place finish overall in a time of 16:35.
The winning time of 16:13 was run by Ronan Stone of Rock Ridge High School in Ashburn, Va. Matt Penna took eighth in 16:38, followed by Lucca Riccio in ninth in 16:42. Penna managed to finish eighth despite being in a group of lead runners who took a wrong turn, according to coach Dan Dachelet. Riccio fell twice during the race, but still battled his way to a ninth place finish. Jackson Landino finished 43rd overall in 17:25 while Ryan Asido was 50th in 17:34.
The Southington girls varsity team finished fifth out of 20 teams with a score of 190. James W. Robinson of Fairfax, Va., took first place with a score of 130. Sophomore Jackie Izzo finished third overall in 19:03. The winning time was 18:54 by Carly Woelfel of South Side of Rockville Centre, N.Y. Izzo’s time is the fastest 5K in program history, according to Dachelet. It surpasses the 5K time of 19:56.25 run by Isabelle Scalise during the Vineyard Invitational on Sept. 10, 2016, in the Manuel F. Correllus State Forest on Martha’s Vineyard. Grace Michaud took ninth in 19:44 and also broke Scalise’s record. Diane Pillsbury ran to a 19th place finish in terms of team score, 21st overall, in 20:24. Meghan Sheline took 63rd for the team and 65th overall in 22:07. Megan Wadman was 96th for the team and 99th overall in 23:23.
The Southington boys junior varsity won their division with a score of 31. The Knights were the top team out of 15 that competed in the Junior Varsity A race. Mike Ditota won the race in a time of 17:38. Jared Rivera finished fourth in 17:52, followed by Grayson Borla in fifth in 17:56 and Andrew Bafuma in seventh in 18:09. Braeden Laframboise finished 14th for the team, 15th overall, in 18:25. Brendan Leone didn’t count toward the team score, but he finished 16th overall in 18:35.
The Southington boys freshmen finished third out of 12 teams with a score of 77. Saint Anthony’s of Huntington, N.Y., took first with a score of 53 and Collegiate School of New York, N.Y., was second with a score of 65. CJ Pierce finished third overall in 10:35, and teammate Drew Nafis was right behind him in fourth in 10:38. Luke Penna was sixth in 10:51; Nick Hulten was 31st for his team, 44th overall in 12:17; and Will Reeves was 36th for his team, 53rd overall in 12:35.
Two Southington girls ran in the Freshman A race. Hannah Cooley finished 15th in 14:17 and Rachel Surveski was 24th in 15:06.
Last Friday, the team was able to take a tour of the Thomas Edison National Historic Park in West Orange, N.Y., on the way to Six Flags.
Up next: Southington was scheduled to run against Hall and Simsbury on Tuesday at Hall High School in West Hartford. The Knights were slated to host the Camp Sloper Relays on Thursday. The relays were pushed back from Sept. 26 due to forecasts of inclement weather. Over the weekend, Southington heads to Vermont for the Woods Trail Run in Wood Hills Trail.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Kevin Roberts, email him at KRoberts@SouthingtonObserver.com