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New London - The first day of indoor track practice a year ago was also Dyshelle Pemberton's first day as a member of the Norwich Free Academy team, having transferred from Fitch.
"She beat MiaLynne (Park) and Camille (McKenzie) in a 200-meter time trial; they kind of dogged it that day," NFA coach Chad Johnson said. "I sat them down and said, 'You just let a Fitch girl beat you on the first day of practice in a time trial.'
"It was the first day and the last day she was a Fitch kid."
Pemberton, a senior who is headed to the University of Rhode Island on a partial track scholarship, won the 300- and 600-meter events at Saturday's Eastern Connecticut Conference Large Division meet at the Coast Guard Academy to help lead NFA to a team victory. The Wildcats (177 points) outdistanced East Lyme (118) and Bacon Academy (57).
Pemberton, who set the school record in the 300 earlier this season (40.64 seconds), is now one of the co-stars for Johnson on a team where none of the stars seem to think of themselves as stars.
"We all just like to push each other, work together," Pemberton said. "Coach puts us all in a position where we know what we can do."
The final list of individual winners for NFA on Saturday included Brittany Grabill in the 55 dash (7.62), Charlotte Van Sambeck in the 1,000 (3:15.29), Brianna Lenehan in the 1,600 (5:00.37), Erin Schaeffer in the high jump (5-0) and Katherine Gabriele in the pole vault (10 feet). The Wildcats also won the 4x180 relay and the sprint medley relay.
Pemberton won the 600 in 1:41.24, followed by the 300 in 41.90. In between, she was fifth in the 55 dash.
Lenehan, meanwhile, the Gatorade Connecticut Cross Country Runner of the Year in the fall, set a meet record in the 1,600, her only event. She beat the previous best of 5:00.54, set by Killingly's Meghan Owen in 2002.
It was Saturday, Jan. 12, that Pemberton broke the school record in the 300 at the Dartmouth Relays, giving her the 15th best time in this nation this season. That evening at the Jack Long Invitational, Lenehan ran a time of 2:53.64 in the 1,000, also setting an NFA record and establishing the No. 3 time in the country.
"Sometimes I don't think they grasp it (how good they are)," Johnson said. "I'm hoping they can win the LL title (Friday in New Haven), something nobody here has done before. Maybe then they'll realize this is a league we haven't seen before."
Pemberton moved to Norwich for her junior year to live with her great-grandmother, Elizabeth Hall-Hurley. Pemberton's aunt, Judy Pemberton Bell, is a member of the NFA Sports Hall of Fame and went on to a career as a track All-American at Eastern Connecticut State University.
"It's been a dream come true," Pemberton said of her successes in track. "I didn't think I could run Division I track, and with a scholarship, too. I've gotten so much better than I could ever expect."
Lenehan said because Pemberton arrived as a junior, she could have been intimidated to start over at a new school.
"She fit right in," Lenehan said. "Everyone loves her. She's such a good person."
Johnson also credited Grabill, who added a win as a member of the 4x180 relay to her victory in the dash. Grabill is coming back from an ankle injury early last month, he said.
The coach used sophomore Evelyn Cournoyer as an example of teamwork, as well, saying the Wildcats wouldn't be as successful without people like her. Cournoyer was second in the 3,200.
"She came into the meet and hadn't even qualified for states. She was disappointed in her results," Johnson said. "Those are the kids we need to lean on. Who can fill in behind those top kids?"
For East Lyme, Gianna Folz won the 55 hurdles in 9.11 seconds, Eva Christensen took the 3,200 in 12:02.32 and the 4x360 team of Isabella Kenny, Megan Stoddard, Zoe Smallidge and Lindsay Schneider won in 3:55.72.