NFA sweeps way past Montville and Waterford
Montville — The coaches of the first-place teams were just trying to figure out how to get better on Tuesday afternoon, how to somehow recapture their successes of a year ago, when the Norwich Free Academy boys' and girls' cross country teams were both Eastern Connecticut Conference champs.
The individual winners were far more unrestrained.
"I was all on that paper. I always read the newspaper, seeing, 'This girl did this. This girl did that. Maybe that can be me someday,'" said NFA freshman Catie Shannon, who won her first varsity race in 18 minutes, 18 seconds, leading the Wildcats to a pair of dual meet victories. "It feels so cool."
"It's a dream come true," said Waterford junior Sam Lenes, who won the overall boys' race contested at Montville High School in 16:07. "You felt it was a battle, that constant fear of people running behind you."
The NFA boys and girls swept the team races, maintaining their status as the ones to beat in the ECC. The girls defeated Waterford 15-50 and Montville 19-44, while Montville topped Waterford 21-37 in an ECC Division II matchup. The boys edged Lenes and Waterford 25-32 and defeated Montville 19-44, while Waterford beat Montville 18-43 in Division II.
NFA's girls tied East Lyme for the ECC Division I championship last year. The Wildcats added Shannon, who edged Montville junior Mady Whittaker (18:49), battling a leg injury. NFA's Eve Buckridge was third in 19:46, followed by teammates Emma Ricketts (20:12), Sydney Kupis (20:36), Sydney Corl (20:53), Madison Martin (20:57), Tess Hospod (21:10) and Kylie DiBernardo (21:11).
"We have more work to do, but she ran a great race," NFA coach Kara Kochanski-Vendola said of Shannon, who previously ran at The Williams School. "After seeing her run at Windham, yes (I thought she could win today), but Whittaker was the more experienced runner. I told (Shannon) to stay behind her and see how she felt. I told her, 'If you feel good enough and confident, go for it.'
"But we have a long season. We have to look to the future. We have East Lyme in October (10) and then ECCs (Oct. 19). That's our goal."
The NFA boys, meanwhile, were led by Reno Sebastian, second in 16:20. Waterford's Joe Carano was third (16:30) and Montville's Jayden Colon fourth (16:42), followed by a pack of NFA runners which tipped the scales in the Wildcats' favor. Nathan Lieske was fifth, Aidan Brown sixth and Digby Ludlow seventh for NFA. Followed by Waterford's Eric Zane in eighth, Ryan Kornacki was ninth overall and the fifth NFA runner.
"We looked at what they did at Windham," NFA coach Chad Johnson said of Waterford's performance at Saturday's Windham Invitational. "Their times were pretty comparable (to ours). We didn't expect it to be a walk in the park."
NFA's boys graduated their top six runners from last year's team, which amassed a 54-meet winning streak during their careers. This Wildcats team, however, doesn't have a frontrunner the way past teams did, including last year's ECC champion in Brandon Mehlinger.
"Everything's going to be a learning experience," Johnson said. "When I say everything, I mean yesterday's lesson was learn to tie your shoes and I kid you not. The good thing is some of these guys have sat back and watched the guys do all the work (in the past). Everyone's working hard now and because they're working hard they're going to get better."
Lenes was the fifth man on Waterford's team last year, 56th in the ECC meet.
"This summer I just worked really hard," Lenes said. "I went to the track every day I was in town, just to have a chance. ... The last 200 meters, I remembered what I put in this summer."
"It puts me in the right mindset," NFA's Shannon said of cross country. "I just like it. There's a competitive edge, but it's also a team sport and you get to cheer people on. ... I was so nervous (before the race). I was shaking. I kept asking coach, 'What do I do? What do I do?' And she said, 'Just stop asking me that.'"
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