Published December 03. 2012 4:00AM Updated December 04. 2012 2:19PM
It would have been logical to predict that Branford girls' cross country would win the Southern Connecticut Conference Oronoque Division title this fall. After all, Kevin Connell's team had reigned atop the Oronoque for the last six seasons. However, it's unlikely anyone could have forecasted the Hornets would see a trio of freshmen make such an immediate impact as Maya Birney, Cyrene Nicholas, and Anneliese Troidle quickly established themselves as the squad's top three runners. Add in solid seasons from the rest of the pack and it's clear to see why Branford not only claimed its seventh straight division crown with a regular season record of 7-0, but also notched its all-time best finishes at the SCC Championship (2nd) and Class MM State Championship (3rd) en route to making the State Open for the first time.
"We accomplished anything beyond what we thought we would and had the finest season we've ever had," said Coach Connell, who was assisted by Bing Miller. "Beating a team with a tradition like Guilford [which went on to win the SCC title] was a big step and then at the SCC meet we finished ahead of another top team in Cheshire. Then we made the State Open, which was our goal all along."
Birney, Nicholas, and Troidle each earned All-Oronoque and All-SCC honors by virtue of their showings at the conference championship. Nicholas placed sixth at 19:53, Troidle was 10th at 20:03, and Birney finished 12th with a time of 20:06. At states, Birney took eighth (20:36) to make All-State, Nicholas came in ninth (20:40), and Troidle finished 18th (21:19). Nicholas also took first in the win versus North Haven that clinched the Oronoque title. Birney and Nicholas were named the Hornets' co-Most Valuable Players and Troidle was Rookie of the Year.
"We've had a lot of good runners, but none who ran this well as freshmen and that really made this season special," said Connell.
Branford saw one other freshman play a part in its success as Cleo Kyriakides won the freshman race at SCCs and then became a full-fledged varsity runner by competing at the Class MM meet. She received the squad's Most Improved Player Award.
The Hornets had three other athletes make All-Oronoque based on their performances at the SCC Championship in junior Tracy Crookston (22nd, 21:12), sophomore Jess Lohret (34th, 21:36), and junior April Simmons (43rd, 22:01), all three of whom went on to run at states. Crookston earned Branford's Desire and Dedication Award for gutting out the season while enduring a hip injury and will captain the team next fall with Simmons and fellow soon-to-be-senior in Sophie Bysiewicz, who ran at SCCs. This year's senior captain was Alex Tracy, who Connell said "was a good role model for the younger kids and a good overall person."