NFA girls are sprinting through cross country season

Last spring, Montville High School’s Shatajah Wattely won the State Open championship in the 100 meters, while Sydnee Over of Windsor went on to become the New England champ in the 800.

In case you don’t know what those two athletes have in common …

They both ran cross country in the fall before their breakthrough moments in sprints to middle-distance events.

Norwich Free Academy’s sprinters have taken took note. Lauren Knerr and MiaLynne Park, both members of the Wildcats Class LL champion 4x100-meter relay team, are running cross country this season, as is Class LL 400 champion Dyshelle Pemberton.

“They saw Shatajah Wattely do it and they said, ‘Let’s try running cross country,’” NFA coach Kara Kochanski-Vendola, who is also the track coach, said at Saturday’s Windham Invitational. “Right now I have three of the members of my 4x400 team that went to nationals (including Brianna Lenehan, already an all-state cross country runner). They look much better already.

“I don’t think they’re having much fun. But we have good dynamics.”

At Windham on Saturday, NFA was fifth in the girls’ varsity one race with 171 points.

Lenehan, the defending champion in the race, did not run due to a sore hip, and the Wildcats also ran freshman Reide Jacksin in the freshman race, where she was 12th.

Kochanski-Vendola was pleased with the other runners, though, still placing sophomore Alyssa Field (25th), sophomore Henley Smith (38th), junior Samantha Trombley (40th), senior Tori Porter (41st) and sophomore Evelyn Cournover (51st) all close to the top 50.

Park, NFA’s seventh runner, was 73rd. Knerr, a sophomore, was 18th in the junior varsity race.

On Wednesday, NFA takes on East Lyme, Plainfield and Windham in a quad-meet at Mohegan Park in Norwich (4:30 p.m.). Plainfield’s team includes defending ECC champion Kerri Ruffo, while East Lyme’s Eva Christensen, 5th in the league last year, should also be one of the frontrunners.

NFA is the defending ECC Large Division champ, as well as winning last year’s league championship race.

The boys’ race between those four schools should also be of note, with NFA and East Lyme two of the favorites in the ECC Large Division.

“We have a very young squad,” Kochanski-Vendola said. “We’re just trying our different strategies. We’re focusing on the ECC meet and just working on different strategies to get us there.”

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