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Manchester - With the finish line in sight and his team trying to make school history, junior Ross Golebiewski needed one last hard push to shake his lone challenger.
Golebiewski's thoughts turned to his grandfather, who passed away a few years ago. John Golebiewski had been one of Ross's biggest supporters.
He responded with a strong finishing kick to win the Class SS individual title in 16 minutes, 47 seconds, and help the Old Lyme High School boys' cross country program to its first state championship Saturday at Wickham Park.
"I'm very surprised," Golebiewski said of his victory. "I've been behind all these guys in my class. I had my grandpa up in heaven cheering me on. It just made me push harder and harder."
"… I ran this one for him. I thought of him before I ran and that last push I thought of him, 'C'mon, help me with this last 100 or 200 (yards).' "
With Golebiewski leading the charge, the Wildcats finished with 57 points and runner-up Haddam-Killingworth had 74 points. Old Lyme placed five runners in the top 25 as seniors Stuart Ross (9th, 17:06), Cole McKnight (10th, 17:34), Jacob Watts-St. Germain (14th, 17:53) and Nicholas Milazzo (23rd, 18:07) rounded out the team.
"I think we crushed it," Ross said of the race. "This was totally a team effort. It is really awesome.""
A hug-fest broke out near the finish line, as the extended Old Lyme cross country family celebrated a historic win for the boys' team.
"It's unbelievable," said Barbara O'Leary, who co-coaches with Bill Rayder. "The kids this year were great. They worked together and really bonded. They did morning practices on their own. They wanted to be better. They'd get up at 5 a.m. and go to school and run in the dark.
"They wanted it and they worked hard."
Shoreline Conference neighbor Haddam-Killingworth served as the biggest roadblock for Old Lyme, which usually had ended up on the losing end of the rivalry until this season.
The Wildcats scored a confidence-boosting victory in the Shoreline Conference championship race on Oct. 17. But they entered Saturday's race still worried about H-K.
"We were still really nervous coming into the (Class SS) race," Ross said. "You could tell at that start the H-K kids wanted it bad. That was the fastest start I've ever had and it never slowed down."
Golebiewski jumped out to a quick start, taking the lead position. Seven minutes into the race, he was stuck in a pack of about a dozen runners at the head of the field.
At the bottom of the uphill finish, Golebiewski and Morgan's Brian Gendron were locked in a shoulder-to-shoulder duel.
He had finished behind Gendron in the Shoreline race, placing third overall.
He won the rematch this time running in the memory of his grandfather. His victory also was a nice birthday present for his mother.
"He just works hard," O'Leary said. "And he wanted it. … I'm really, really excited that he won."
Old Lyme moves on to State Open on Friday at Wickham Park. The top two teams and first 12 individuals in each class qualified for that event.
There were some success stories from the Eastern Connecticut Conference.
Ledyard junior Bryce Hedman was the top boys' finisher from the ECC. He placed fourth in Class MM with a time of 16:55. He went out fast and ran with the leaders in the early stages of the race before dropping back.
"As a junior, I'm hoping the other guys are seniors so I'll be the favorite next year," Hedman said. "But I m definitely happy."
St. Bernard will send two runners to the State Open. Competing in Class S, sophomore James Rose and junior Jonathan Cabral placed eighth and ninth, respectively, in 17:32 to qualify for the first time.
"It's more than I expected," St. Bernard coach Rick Mitton said. "I had hoped that they'd finish in the top 10 and I was right. They both ran very good times."
The Saints' program has a bright future, losing only one runner.
On the girls' side, St. Bernard freshman Ellen Arvidson was a State Open qualifer, placing 12th (20:38) in Class S.
Senior Alyssa Brehler (19:17) and sophomore Meagan Perez (19:29) took the top two spots to pace Griswold to a Class SS state title.