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Norwich - Kyle Liang made his good friend and Norwich Free Academy senior classmate Brianna Lenehan a promise prior to Thursday's Eastern Connecticut Conference cross country championships at Norwich Golf Course.
"I told her, 'If we both win the ECC, I'm going to pick you up and run you around the whole golf course,'" Liang said.
Well, did he?
"I was more tired than I thought," said Liang with a grin. "I picked her up and put her back down."
First, it was Lenehan fulfilling her part of the bargain, winning the 3.1-mile girls' race in 19 minutes, 39 seconds, dethroning defending champion Kerri Ruffo of Plainfield who was second in 19:55. East Lyme's Eva Christensen was third in 20:38.
Then Liang outdueled East Lyme's Ben Ostrowski (2nd, 17:13) and St. Bernard freshman Connor Gralton (3rd, 17:20) for the boys' title, finishing in 17:09.
Griswold won the girls' team championship with 61 points, ahead of Plainfield (82), Fitch (103) and NFA (110). Fitch's win over NFA gave the Falcons a share of the ECC Large Division title, while Plainfield won the Medium Division and Griswold the Small Division.
East Lyme, which placed four runners in the top eight, won the boys' team title with 60 points, the first ECC championship for the Vikings since 1970. NFA was second (89) and Woodstock Academy third (94). Stonington captured the Medium Division and St. Bernard the Small Division.
"I can't even explain how good it feels," said Liang, who was the Wildcats' No. 4 runner last year, finishing sixth in 17:44.
"My coach in middle school, Miss V., used to bring us here to this meet. I remember watching Tradelle Ward finish (Ward won back-to-back races for Griswold in 2004-05) and thinking that would be a dream come true. It means so much that it's finally happened."
NFA boys' coach Chad Johnson, who also coaches Lenehan in indoor track, remarked that both Thursday's winners are the understated type who have possibly been afraid to take the lead in a race of this magnitude in the past.
"You've got to get it out of 'em," Johnson said. "In the past it's almost been like, 'I don't deserve this. Somebody else is going to take this.' Today they both ran like, 'I deserve this and I'm taking it.'"
Both Liang and Lenehan took the lead at the same spot, Johnson said, with about 600 meters left.
Liang had a slight edge at that point on Ostrowski, whom he's run against for four years, when he decided to make a move.
"We were both hurting," Liang said, describing the moment. "Usually I try to mask the pain, when you're neck and neck with someone you try to mask the pain, but we were both putting it out there.
"I knew 'this is going to hurt me, but it's going to hurt him worse.' I knew Ben has All-New England 600 speed and it wouldn't be best to wait till the very end."
Lenehan was third in the ECC last year in 20:05, trailing Ruffo and then-Ledyard senior Cedar Nelson. This season, Lenehan, although one of the league's frontrunners, suffered from a hip flexor that sidelined her for all of the invitational meets and didn't allow her to see how she matched up with Ruffo and Griswold's Alyssa Brehler in a championship atmosphere.
"That definitely made me more nervous," Lenehan said. "I didn't have a lot of chances to race all out. ... Today Kerri and I worked together the whole race. She'd make a little surge and I'd make a surge. I don't know, it's all kind of a blur. I can't really believe it."
NFA girls' coach Kara Kochanski-Vendola said she could sense Lenehan's frustration with her injury, especially when she had to sit out the Ocean State Invite in Rhode Island on Sept. 29.
"I'm just so happy for her," Kochanski-Vendola said. "I wanted this so badly for her. It's a big deal. It's a great experience. She loves middle distance, but she's great at cross country, too."