MANCHESTER – Last Saturday, a runner in front of Peter Schulten fell at the start of the Class LL cross country championship race. Schulten tried to sidestep but ended up falling, too, along with some other runners.
Another Xavier runner was sick 400 meters into the race. When coach Chris Stonier saw his runners a little ways into the race, he knew something was wrong. But even before that, there was something wrong.
“They thought they were invulnerable,” Stonier said.
Xavier ended up second to Staples and the runners thought about that all week. Friday, the Falcons came to Wickham Park with a different mentality. It was a team mentality. And they won their first State Open since 2009 by the slimmest of margins, breaking a 61-61 tie with Staples with their sixth runner, senior Owen Lally.
“LLs, we were out of whack,” said Lally, who was 33rd. “After the race, we kind of pointed to that and said, ‘Our mentality is team.’ Today, we even walked to the bathroom all together: ‘Even though one of us might have to go, all seven of us are going.’
“It was the team part of it that pushed us all through. [During the race,] I heard [teammate] Robbie [Cozean]’s dad say, ‘The guys up front are doing their job, you gotta do yours.’ That motivated me so much, just thinking, ‘I got six guys along with me who are going all out.’”
Schulten, a transfer from Coginchaug who sat out the first half of the season, finished eighth in 16:22.
“This feels good,” he said. “It’s definitely an improvement. We’re very happy. We did more things as a team.”
Initially, it was thought that Staples was the winner, but Stonier, a math teacher, was suspicious of the math.
“Being a math teacher helps in that situation,” he said, laughing. “I’m really happy. It was a goal.
“Three years ago, the three captains – Owen Curran, Owen Lally and Trevor Christie – ran at Manhattan Invite and I told them, ‘You guys are going to win a state championship your senior year.’ For four years, every day has been for that one goal. I reminded them of that on Wednesday.”
Fairfield Prep senior Drew Thompson won the individual title in 15:44 and Cheshire senior Brendan Murray was second (16:01) in the same order the two finished in the SCC championship and the Class LL race.
The Glastonbury girls won the team title with 80 points. The Tomahawks’ No. 1 runner, Erin McGill, has been out with a foot injury the last few meets and still wasn’t back Friday, and their top runner from Saturday, Alex Ross, had breathing problems due to the heat and humidity and ended up as Glastonbury’s fourth runner. Angela Braga, who finished 11th overall, was the Tomahawks’ top runner Friday.
“We were losing early in the race,” Glastonbury coach Brian Collins said. “We were maybe second at best. They continued to dig deep. I’m so darn proud of them.
“Losing our No. 1 runner could have been bad mentally for them but they pulled together. This is one of the biggest wins we’ve had like that.”
Wilton senior Morgan McCormick won the race in 18:23 and Pomperaug freshman Katherine Wiser was second (18:42) while Guilford’s Meredith Bloss was third (19:28). Manchester sophomore Kate Hedlund finished fourth (19:31), outkicking Immaculate’s Angela Saidman (who also finished in 19:31) at the finish.
“My first mile was slower than it normally is but my goal was to not go out as hard,” Hedlund said. “I ended up having a second mile faster than it normally is so my splits are evening out and I think that helped me overall. The last mile, me and [Saidman] were together the entire time and I tried to pass her, she ended going back in front of me and I don’t remember how many times that happened, but I ended up being able to pass her right at the finish.”
Though it became overcast and cooler for the boys race, it was hot and humid for the girls race and many runners struggled. Hall sophomore Jenna Zydanowicz, the Class LL and CCC champion, was running with McCormick through the first mile and was about 30 meters behind McCormick at the 2-mile mark, but her legs seized up about a half mile later and she fell.
“She got up and tried to keep going, but [assistant coach Betty Remigino-Knapp] just said, ‘Stop,’” Hall coach Scott Sampietro said. Zydanowicz did not finish but Sampietro said she was OK.
Another Hall runner, sophomore Rose Kitz, who was sixth in the Class LL meet in 19:56, fell about 50-100 feet from the finish line and ended up crawling across in 22:31.
“It was really hard to watch,” Sampietro said. “Kids who work hard all season, to have this be the way it ends. She kept being concerned about ‘what was my time?’”