East Lyme boys dominate ECC cross country meet again

Norwich — East Lyme's Chris Abbey was telling his coach, Sam Harfenist, of his philosophy.

“When Sam graduates, he would win,” Harfenist said, speaking of Sam Whittaker, an East Lyme senior and the defending Eastern Connecticut Conference boys' cross country champion headed into Thursday's 2018 edition of the race.

But what if another competitor rose to the occasion next year?

What if Abbey didn't feel well on race day next year?

Harfenist proposed those scenarios to Abbey, suggesting that if Abbey — a junior and the younger Viking to Whittaker — had the opportunity this time, he might think about going for it.

Harfenist had a lot to be proud of as East Lyme runners finished first, second and third to capture the overall team title for the Vikings for the second straight season.

Abbey was first in 17 minutes, Whittaker second in 17:25 and Noah Barnhart third in 17:42. Fred Rukondo (12th, 18:14) and Fisher Macklin (18th, 18:33) also scored for East Lyme, which won with 35 points. Norwich Free Academy was second in the team standings with 61 points and Fitch third with 125.

Waterford's Aidan Pepin finished fourth individually in 17:45 and Bacon Academy's Andrew Janus was fifth in 17:52.

And so Harfenist witnessed this from his team, which is now set to defend its Class MM state championship from a year ago:

Abbey, who grew two inches since last season to 6 feet, transformed himself into the ECC champion. Whittaker handled the defeat with grace, calling Abbey “a good person to train with; he takes the heaviness and makes it lighter.” Barnhart, meanwhile, went from 17th last year to third to mark his senior season.

“They've done it all season,” said Harfenist of the East Lyme domination at the top of the race. “But it was just awesome for me to see them go 1-2-3. Something here seems different.

“The idea that Sam is happy for Chris right now … the two of them are talking. Chris has always played second fiddle to Sam. It's just really good they're happy for each other and can share in it. … I don't think you've seen the last of those two. And Noah has worked his butt off.”

The Vikings returned the bulk of their lineup from last year's state championship team. In that race, at Manchester's Wickham Park, Whittaker was third, then-senior Ryan McCauley fourth and Abbey sixth to give East Lyme three frontrunners.

This season, among East Lyme's goals was to remain healthy enough to be able to repeat at the state level. Also, Whittaker vowed to save some of his strength for the state championship and State Open, having fallen short of reaching the New England meet a year ago.

“I'm a little disappointed. I didn't have the biggest drive today. (Abbey) definitely had a bigger drive,” said Whittaker, who would have been the first boy to repeat as ECC champion since Griswold's Tradelle Ward in 2004-05. “It was more like dual meets. I'm pre-peak right now. I wasn't really feeling that fast today. … It was about the team today, not about me.”

“We train together and everything and I just learned everything from running (with) him, He taught me everything,” Abbey said of Whittaker. “It feels really good to finally achieve this goal. I just started picking it up (at the end). The last mile I thought we were slowing down. My coach told me, 'Don't be afraid to pass him.'”

NFA finished with three runners in the top 10, with Dylan McGuire sixth, Aidan Brown ninth and Peyton Ramsey 10th. McGuire was 21st last year in the ECC junior varsity race, running in 20:49. Thursday he covered the Norwich Golf Course layout in 17:54.

“We're not pleased with that. We want first for sure,” NFA coach Chad Johnson said. “But I can't complain about the kids' performances. We knew even if we had our best race, we needed their fifth man to have a bad day.”

Johnson referred to East Lyme freshman Luke Anthony, who ran sixth for the Vikings in the varsity race. Anthony is the son of John Anthony, Johnson's former cross country teammate at NFA.

“That just means me and John are going to have some words later (over where he lives),” Johnson said with a laugh before continuing. “… That was our best performance (Thursday) for sure. And five of our top seven guys are coming back next year. We have a lot to work with.”

East Lyme won the ECC Division I title, Bacon took Division II, Lyman Memorial Division III and Plainfield Division IV.

v.fulkerson@theday.com

ECC CHAMPIONSHIP MEET

At Norwich Golf Course

Note: This is a corrected version changing St. Bernard to 15th with 365 points and Wheeler to 16th with 416. It also adds Stonington's Nathan Gonzalez (23rd) and St. Bernard's Sam Davis (39th), who were originally omitted from the Top 50.

Team results

1. East Lyme, 35; 2. NFA, 61; 3. Fitch, 121; 4. Bacon Academy, 132; 5. Waterford, 146; 6. Woodstock Academy, 184; 7. Lyman Memorial, 205; 8. Ledyard, 208; 9. Stonington, 254; 10. Montville, 267; 11. Plainfield, 290; 12. Griswold, 300; 13. New London, 334; 14. Killingly, 349; 15. St. Bernard, 365, 16. Wheeler, 416.

Individual Top 50

1. Chris Abbey (EL), 17:00; 2. Sam Whittaker (EL), 17:25; 3. Noah Barnhart (EL), 17:42; 4. Aidan Pepin (Wat), 17:45; 5. Andrew Janus (B), 17:52; 6. Dylan McGuire (NFA), 17:54; 7. Ian Poe (F), 17:54; 8. Sam Lenes (Wat), 18:00; 9. Aidan Brown (NFA), 18:01; 10. Peyton Ramsey (NFA), 18:05; 11. Ryan Poe (F), 18:13; 12. Fred Rukundo (EL), 18:14; 13. Jeffry Stober (LM), 18:19; 14. John Mateo (NL), 18:23; 15. Victor Cazabal (Windham), 18:30; 16. Digby Ludlow (NFA), 18:30; 17. Kellen Paparella (B), 18:33; 18. Fisher Macklin (EL), 18:33; 19. Shane Franson (LM), 18:33; 20. Simon Reichert (L), 18:34; 21. Ethan Aspiras (WA), 18:35; 22. Aidan Gallagher (NFA), 18:40; 23. Nathan Gonzalez (S), 18:42; 24. Shea Kenney (F), 18:54; 25. Luke Anthony (EL), 18:56;

26. Ethan Moores (B), 19:01; 27. Kenneth Birlin (WA), 19:12; 28. Albert Franck (L), 19:12; 29. Simon Chidley (F), 19:13; 30. Andrew Connelly (S), 19:13; 31. Matthew Speight (P), 19:14; 32. Luciano Folz (EL), 19:15; 33. Timothy Jencks (NFA), 19:16; 34. Giovann Rivera (Win), 19:18; 35. Rashawn Wright (NL), 19:22; 36. Shayne Bigelow (K), 19:24; 37. Jayden Colon (M), 19:24; 38. Garrett Gasparino (G), 19:25; 39. Sam Davis (SB), 19:25; 40. Nicholas Smith (L), 19:29; 41. Adam Schumaker (G), 19:30; 42. Rishi Iyer (M), 19:31; 43. Michael Bear (B), 19:32; 44. Michael Carroll (Whe), 19:32; 45. Josh Pothier (P), 19:36; 46. Christian Montoya (Wat), 19:37; 47. Eric Zane (Wat), 19:38; 48. Matthew Roethlein (WA), 19:38; 49. Hamilton Barnes (WA), 19:39; 50. Evan Carney (NFA), 19:42.

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