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Points and seconds can prove crucial in cross country and the Hand girls’ squad found that out in the best possible scenario.
Traveling to Baldwin Middle School in Guilford on Oct. 8 to take on the host Indians, the Tigers knew all too well that their outcome with Guilford would determine the SCC Hammonasset Division champion for this campaign. It was Hand that came out on top with a 27-28 triumph to claim its first ever division crown by the tightest of margins.
“Coach Swift told us that this would be a big meet leading up,” said senior Katie Phillips. “I was suffering from a bad ankle, but I knew the team would need me, and I chose to run. I walked the course first and saw a lot of trails and routes and was nervous, but I pulled through and didn’t stop. This team has a lot of depth and a strong top 13, so we were able to rack up points.”
Hand (7-1; 4-0 SCC Hammonasset) also captured a 15-50 victory over Hillhouse in the tri-meet. Phillips captured the race with a course-record time of 15:37, while not far behind was sophomore Sheila Flaherty in third with her mark of 15:56 to put Hand up by a pair. Another key factor in the victory was 6th-place runner in freshman Gabrielle Martin (16:25), who narrowly edged out Guilford’s senior Katie Nolan in the event’s final 50 meters.
Knowing what the three-time defending SCC champion Indians bring to the table, Head Coach Steve Swift anticipated a hotly-contested battle for the Hammonasset’s top honor.
“It was an exciting meet to win, and it was so back-and-forth between us and Guilford,” said Swift. “We talked before this meet that we had a chance to win it. After the fifth kid came down in the shoot, I started to do a little math in my head and thought we might do it. We knew going in it would be difficult being on their home course, and they know how to race on it.”
The Tigers’ top trio of finishers staved off a strong Guilford push for the title, as they grinded throughout the race from the opening gun to the first foot across the finish line.
“Katie ran strong and worked hard all the way to separate herself from Guilford’s top runner,” said Swift on Phillips, who outlasted the Indians’ senior runner-up Olivia Schultes by seven seconds. “Sheila did much of the same; she had the determination to not get caught. Guilford came next finishing fourth and fifth, but Gabrielle was the one who made up for that for us. We could’ve given ourselves more breathing room, but a win is a win.”
Additional runners for Hand were the sophomore duo of Sarah Odabashian (8th, 16:33) and Madeline Yaggi (9th, 16:36) to round out the Tigers’ five spots in the top 10.
In such a short invitational and dual meet schedule, Swift was equally proud of the leg work his athletes did in the offseason to prepare for the slate.
“These girls did their homework over the summer, which is really good considering it is such a short season,” said Swift. “During invitational meets, it was hard to read where we were at because we were missing people, but it feels good to have gaps filled in now.”
Hand now turns its attention to the postseason. First up is the SCC Championship on Thursday, Oct. 17 at Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison at 2:10 p.m. The Tigers then move onto the Class L State Championship on Saturday, Oct. 26 at Manchester’s Wickham Park at 2:35 p.m.
“I am hopeful for SCCs,” said Swift. “I honestly haven’t thought about states yet. The SCC has a lot of strong teams with Branford, Amity, Cheshire, and still Guilford, so there are about five teams right there. It will come down to who performs the best and shows up that day.”