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Kevin Connell felt his Branford girls' indoor track squad had a legitimate chance to capture the SCC West Sectional crown so long as his athletes heeded his request of doing that one extra event in order to generate the most points. The Hornets' athletes indeed displayed their dedication to achieving excellence as they packed the events with competitors and used that depth-along first-place finishes from Hunter Carden, Anna Atkinson, and the 4x800 relay-to bring home the Sectional championship. Branford posted a total of 107 points at Floyd Little Athletic Center on Jan. 24, well ahead of runner-up Mercy's 85 and the seven other competing squads.
"During the week, we talked about getting the most out of everyone and we did, which was the big difference. I can't think of any area where anyone let us down," said Coach Connell. "Our kids have worked hard when it was cold or dark outside this season and they've competed at big meets at Yale and in New York City so they've seen it all and were mentally and physically prepared for this meet."
One athlete who's certainly no stranger to marquee meets is Carden, who took first place in the pole vault for the second straight year at the Sectional meet, topping last year's height of 7-6 by going 9 feet. Carden was complemented in this event by teammates Alyssa Case, who took second at 7-6, and Chaylea Finn, who was third at 6-6. The senior captain discussed the elation she and her teammates felt after claiming Branford's first Sectional title in its third season competing at the meet.
"We were really pumped and the ride home was nuts. We wanted to follow in the guys' footsteps after they won this meet the last two years and we did," said Carden. "This was something we worked hard to accomplish all season and we were willing to do whatever it took, which meant everyone doing three events."
Carden's two others events were the 4x400 relay and 4x200 relay, each which scored points toward the Hornets' championship total by virtue of placing in the top six. Branford's 4x400 of Carden, fellow senior captain Alex Tracy, Atkinson, and Maya Birney placed third with a time of 4:27.24 and its 4x200 of Etta Hanlon, Atkinson, senior captain Bryanna Willaby, and Carden took sixth at 1:54.73.
Atkinson also ran to some individual glory by breaking her own school record in the 55 hurdles with a time of 8.91, ahead of Career's Milani Glass, who ran 9.20. Atkinson felt proud to attain her goal of breaking nine seconds in the event and was of course proud of her entire team for putting together a plethora of premier performances.
"Everyone stepped up at this meet and gave 100 percent. We knew we had a chance to win and it felt great after we won that all of our hard work paid off," she said. "I think this win will boost our confidence because it shows how good we can be when everyone is willing to put in that extra effort."
Branford's 4x800 relay undoubtedly dug deep for that little something extra as three members of its Oronoque champion cross country squad joined forces with a Hornets' soccer star to win the event. Those athletes were Maya Birney, Anneliese Troidle, and Tracy Crookston from cross country, who along with Tanya Altrui, ran 10:20.91 to best Cross's mark of 10:22.30.
"Tanya is one of those girls who we asked to do that one extra event," said Connell. "She was already going to do the 3,200 and, when I asked if she also wanted to run the 4x8, she just smiled. That relay is a key part of our success and really came through for us."
Altrui placed third in the 3,200 with a time of 12:37.37 and right behind Lisa MacLachlan, who was second at 11:55.46. Troidle took fifth in the event at 12:52.31 and Jess Lohret was sixth (13:16.28). Altrui additionally finished third in the 600 by running 1:49.12, which was right behind Birney's mark of 1:46.20, which put her in second. In the other distance events, Troidle finished fifth in the 1,000 (3:24.22) and MacLachlan was also second in the 1,600 at 5:35 with Crookston in fourth (5:48.90).
In terms of other point-scoring performances, the Hornets' 1,600 sprint medley relay of Willaby, Hanlon, Tracy, and Cyrene Nicholas placed third (4:48.27) and Hanlon finished third in the long jump with a distance of 15-1½.
Branford now gets ready for the SCC Championship, which will also be at the Floyd Little Athletic Center, at 4 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 1.