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The East Haven boys' and girls' cross country teams both raced against Branford and North Haven on Oct. 8 at the Branford Supply Ponds and were defeated in their final meet leading up to the SCC Championship that will take place on Thursday, Oct. 17.
Even though both his squads were defeated, Head Coach Anthony Russell was primarily concentrating on how many kids posted personal bests at the meet.
"Branford and North Haven are both formidable opponents. As far as the score went, we didn't fare so well, but our times have consistently gone down throughout the season, which I'm happy about," Russell said. "It looked kind of lopsided by the scoring, but a lot of our kids posted personal bests and it's a really difficult course."
Both the boys' and girls' squads lost 15-50 to both Branford and North Haven, each dropping to 1-7 on the season.
Senior captain Brady Reynolds (21st, 21;17) was the top finisher for the boys at the meet. He's the lone senior on the boys' squad and has been instrumental in helping Russell get the underclassmen up to speed.
"He brings a consistent work ethic, which is infectious to the other kids," Russell said. "We are a young team. We only have nine boys that run and eight of them are underclassmen-five of them are freshmen -so by him coming every day and working hard, it sets a great example."
The boys finished the race in the following order after Reynolds: Stephen Martindale (29th, 22:19), Conor Reynolds (33rd, 23:13), Jake Ferrara (34th, 23:22), Alphonse DeLucia (35th, 23:23), Ryan Hanlon (42nd, 24:18), Paul DeMaio (45th, 24:24), Billy Share (50th, 27:26), and Matthew Massimino (54th, 30:01).
The terrain of the course was difficult for both teams as Branford Supply Ponds is different than what East Haven is used to running on. The Yellowjackets had run primarily on asphalt all season so the transition to the hills and trails of the course was challenging.
Russell knew the course and did what he could to prepare his squads, trying to duplicate the course in practice during the week leading up to the meet.
"For a course like Branford, we'll do a lot more stuff in our cross country trail and do workouts on the hill in the grass on East Haven's campus," he said. "Most of the courses I'm familiar with so what I would do is try to duplicate different types of workouts throughout the week that would be similar to what they'd see at the up-and-coming meet."
Although the workouts helped runners improve their times, it didn't fully help the team as a few runners went down throughout the race.
"A few of them fell so it's one of those courses where you need to pay attention to the terrain while you're running," Russell said. "A lot of times what happens is you get so tired that you just want to finish the race and you don't realize that you're running in unfamiliar territory. We had a few injuries, but everybody finished the race. Overall, I thought we did pretty well."
The Yellowjackets' girls were led by Melissa Palma (20th, 25:34), Alexis Hernandez (21st, 26:50), Dana Ross (24th, 27:19), Michele Kabel (25th, 27:28), Gabby Capuano (33rd, 30:11), Taylor Maffeo (34th, 30;11), Qiana Mendez (36th, 31:09), Rachael Massey (37th, 31;44), Melissa Rosa (39th, 34:53), Jocelyn Gladwin (40th, 35:09), and Tiffany DePalma (41st, 35:10).
The overall success of the girls' team this season has been hampered by a knee injury to last season's co-MVP Emily Maffeo.
"Having Emily out hurts our team because it's really important that you have five runners that finish around the same time. Those are usually what the most competitive and successful cross country programs have," Russell said. "By losing Emily, we lose one of our top runners and it's been difficult this year. Teams that I thought we'd be able to compete with, it's been a little difficult."
Even with a wealth of inexperience on this season's squads, Russell is pleased with how much the Yellowjackets have improved throughout the regular season and is looking forward to the upcoming SCC and Class MM (Oct. 26) meets.
"You train and tailor workouts based on where you want them to be at certain times of the season and you want them peaking at times like this with SCCs and the state meet coming up," Russell said. "I'm not saying that we'd be close to being up to winning either one, but as long as we stay competitive, that's important."