Whittaker, East Lyme boys' cross country may be better than ever
Stonington — Noah Barnhart ran more than he ever had this summer.
"I ran a lot in the neighborhood around my house and when it's hot, on the treadmill," said Barnhart, an East Lyme High School senior. "The coach definitely encourages us to work really hard and I wanted to do anything I could do to help the team."
East Lyme's boys' cross country team, the defending Class MM state champion, opened its dual season Tuesday with the sweep of a four-team meet, beating Bacon Academy (21-35), Stonington (17-42) and Plainfield (15-48).
Sam Whittaker, the 2017 Eastern Connecticut Conference individual champion, won the overall 5K race in 17 minutes, 25 seconds, followed by Chris Abbey second in 17:41 and Barnhart third in 17:42. Barnhart was the Vikings' fifth man in the state championship race, but has improved enough so that Whittaker says the team is even stronger this year than last.
"I've got to watch out," Whittaker said. "They were pretty close to me."
Bacon took the fourth, fifth and sixth slots with Stonington's Nathan Gonzalez crossing the finish line in seventh (18:46.17). Bacon topped Stonington 18-38 in an ECC Division II matchup and Stonington defeated Plainfield 19-44.
In the girls' race, East Lyme beat Stonington 24-31 and Bacon 20-35. Stonington was ahead of Bacon 22-36 in a Division II meeting. Bacon freshman Jordan Malloy was first in 21:55, followed by East Lyme's Gilly Goodwin (22:11) and Stonington's Lindsey Orr (22:21) and Lily Anderson (22:23).
East Lyme tipped the outcome in its favor by having Sydney Sager, Samantha Lyster and Brie Am Ende finish fifth through seventh. Sager is a freshman.
For the East Lyme boys' team, coach Sam Harfenist most likely wishes he could keep his team in a bubble until the postseason, which the Vikings are expected to dominate once again if they can remain healthy.
Last season, Whittaker, an enthusiastic successor to former East Lyme state champion Vann Moffett, ran feverishly to establish himself throughout the regular season and the ECC meet. He did not have the postseason he was hoping for, however, finishing a disappointing 64th in the State Open and failing to qualify for the New England meet.
"I need to slow it down the first half (of the season)," Whittaker said. "(Last year), by states, I was done. I was hoping it would keep going."
"They're good. They just have to stay healthy," Harfenist said. "Nothing is given. We've been working on being able to work through and get something out of the race, but not overkill. (But) running on pillows), you don't win either. ... We talked in June with the top group, (but) they did this all by themselves. They're self-motivated."
Meanwhile, East Lyme's girls, the defending ECC champs, as are the boys, were led by Goodwin.
Goodwin, a junior, is one of the team's co-captains, along with Lyster. Together, they hope to replace the leadership of the graduated Rasa Kirvelevicius, although that it still a work in progress.
"Sometimes I'm waiting for someone to tell me to go warm up," said Goodwin, with a laugh, saying that she eventually realizes that's now her role. "No one even has their driver's license on the team."
Goodwin, though, has had a health-related breakthrough from last season. Last year, she persisted through cross country season despite suffering from asthma, vocal cord disfunction and anemia. At last season's race at Stonington, she threw up, coach Mike Flynn said. She was 62nd in the ECC.
"It's good to see how the season will go," said Goodwin, a member of two ECC championship teams in her two seasons with the program. "It was good beating Stonington because they have the same mindset as us. We have a freshman, Sydney, you can tell she has good potential. It's a really small team, we have seven girls running, but we can do it if we run as a pack."
"We have zero room for error," Flynn said.
The Stonington girls were last season's ECC Division II champions and will compete in Division II again this year along with Bacon, Killingly, Ledyard and Waterford. Coach Jenna Perez was pleased with the early-season effort against East Lyme.
"East Lyme won ECCs last year," Perez said. "I knew they were going to be difficult. We'll see how we do. We're working. We're working."