Boys Cross Country preview: Forget about ‘rebuilding,’ the Knights are ready for competition

Junior Ryan Slesinski, above at last year’s Class LL race, is one of two all-conference runners to return to the Knights.

By KEVIN ROBERTS

STAFF WRITER

Southington boys cross country had a great season in 2017, and SHS coach Dan Dachelet has every reason to expect a repeat performance even if this is a “rebuilding year.”

Last fall, the Blue Knights finished second in the CCC West Region’s Colonial Division, and went on to place fifth overall at the CCC championship meet. Conner Leone, Shane Leone and Sean Young were all-conference runners on that 2017 team.

They have all graduated, so Dachelet originally thought that this season would be a rebuild. But after seeing the work his boys put in during the offseason, the coach quickly changed his thought process.

“We’ve had a really good summer,” he said.

The Blue Knights have been training six or seven days per week—and sometimes twice per day—to get ready for the fall campaign. It’s not an easy thing to do, but the runners have been committed.

“The toughest part is putting the shoes on and getting out the door,” Dachelet said.

Southington junior Matthew Penna, who was an all-conference runner last year, along with senior captains Ryan Slesinski and Tyler Strong have been leading the way. Penna is the team’s top returning runner. He finished third behind the Leones at last year’s CCC meet. The trio have kept training since their final race, and that has raised expectations this fall.

But that isn’t all that Dachelet is talking about. Also back is senior Ben Palladino, who was one of the seven Blue Knight runners in the CCC and Class LL state meets. Ben Hoffman is another senior runner for Southington. Junior Lucca Riccio put up a “monster summer,” according to Dachelet, and he is a potential No. 2 runner.

The Blue Knights welcome some good sophomores as well.

“We have a bunch of sophomores that could very much push the upperclassmen,” Dachelet said.

Those younger runners could be a big key for the Blue Knights, and they add potential depth as well.

“We have a talented group of young athletes that are in unknown territory,” Dachelet said. “We lost the bulk of our varsity last season and the young group is definitely motivated to step up.  They logged the miles this summer so we’ll have to see if this translates into fast times on the course.”

The favorites in the CCC West Region are Hall and Glastonbury, last year’s winners of the Colonial and Patriot divisions. Conard, which finished behind Southington in the Colonial Division, has some good runners in its program, and that could help that team improve on its 8-6 record from last year, Dachelet said.

“Every single week it’s like we’re going to a big invitation,” Dachelet said.

Dachelet wants his boys to gain confidence throughout the season and be ready for the CCC and Class LL state meets. The 2018 season started on Sept. 11 when Southington hosted Manchester at Camp Sloper.

To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Kevin Roberts, email him at KRoberts@SouthingtonObserver.com.

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