Cross Country: CCC East Promises To Be Competitive

The Hartford Courant

The Tolland girls cross country team wants to defend its Class M title; RHAM has one of the top runners in the state in junior Chrissy Bendzinski; and E.O. Smith has a solid girls team.

All three are in the CCC East, which should make for an interesting dual meet season, as well as post-season.

Tolland returns many of its runners, including sophomore Courtney Akerly, who finished fifth at the Class M meet and is the Eagles' No. 1 runner again this year.

"It's looking good," Tolland girls coach Judi Lafontaine said. "They all trained really hard this summer. We have expectations we are going to repeat in Class M this year. We lost four of our top seven but we have two newcomers who seem to be filling those spots."

Bendzinski was injured part of last cross country season but finished 10th at the State Open.

"She had a great spring," RHAM coach Mark Logan said. "She's obviously focused on performing well this year."

E.O. Smith has four All-CCC East returnees in seniors Andrea Ricci and Miranda Cilfone and juniors Alyssa Coulter and Rebecca Kaufman.

The Tolland boys have won four straight state titles, three in Class M and last year in Class MM. But graduation has taken its toll on the Eagles, who return senior Colin Sauter and junior Conner Lafontaine.

"We had two pretty strong groups of seniors come through," coach Brandon Elliott said. "This year's going to be a different dynamic."

Rocky Hill, which lost the Class M title by a point to Suffield, should be strong again in the CCC East, with senior Joe Crafa, one of the top runners in the state. Crafa won the CCC championship last year, beating Courant Cross Country Runner of the Year Brian Poirier of Northwest Catholic, who graduated, and was the Class M runner-up. The Terriers have all-conference runners James and David Wang, both seniors, and junior Alex Tan.

The Simsbury girls and boys teams swept the CCC championships last year. The girls return a large contingent of runners, including junior Sarah Mattison, who finished 10th at the Class LL meet. … Farmington has two top runners in Matt Simoneau and Matt Chisholm but the team is not very deep. … Long-time Hall boys coach Tom Butterfield has 62 runners out for his team. … Northwest Catholic returns seniors Joe Doyle and Anthony Ravosa.

Glastonbury girls coach Brian Collins is also looking at a rebuilding effort after losing State Open champion Reid Watson, who went to Dartmouth. Sophomore Kaitlyn Hebert and junior Kristen Arborio are the top two runners.

"I think the two will go back and forth," Collins said. "That's what helped us when we had Lindsay [Crevoiserat], Reid and Cara [Dorris] — they would work off each other."

There are two new coaches in the CCC North: Dani Kennedy is at Manchester, and Celeste Over, whose daughter Sydnee is a senior cross country and top track runner, takes over at Windsor for both the boys and girls. Over has 24 boys at Windsor and nine girls, including Sydnee, who will be the No. 1 runner.

In the NCCC, both the Bolton boys and girls, coached by Paul Smith, should be strong. The girls return the top seven runners from a team that finished third at the Class S meet and the boys have seniors Brendan Callahan and Chris Armstrong, who helped the Bulldogs to a Class S title last year during the October snowstorm.

Capital Prep, which finished third in Class S with a group of sophomores, was "freaked out" by the snowstorm, coach Scott Wojnarowicz said, laughing. This year, his runners are a year older, with more experience and more maturity. Led by junior Dhahran Velasquez (who finished 10th in the State Open last year), the Trailblazers would like to become the first Hartford team to win a state title in a long time.

Wojnarowicz, who also runs one of the first meets of the season, the Hartford Riverfront Cross Country Festival, said the meet is taking a "sabbatical" because of sponsorship issues. The Haddad Windham Invitational opens the invitational season for the 34th year Saturday morning at Windham High.

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