East Lyme cross country upholding its tradition at top of ECC
East Lyme — Brendan Fant, an East Lyme High School senior and at the front of the pack for Tuesday’s high school cross country race at Rocky Neck State Park, is an inspiration in the estimation of head coach Mike Flynn.
It wasn’t long ago that Fant was in the shadow of former teammate Luke Anthony, a state champion and national qualifier in cross country and a member of the Class of 2022. Fant was at a State Open track meet once in support of Anthony when he let Flynn know it was his goal to get to that level himself.
It’s something Fant worked for.
“His story translates to the other guys,” Flynn said. “He was really good coming out of middle school but he kind of had to go through a lot of challenges to get to where he is now. When you see your teammates, especially as a younger person, evolve that way, then it can really be inspiring.
“He wasn’t an all-state runner from his freshman year.”
Fant finished first in 16 minutes, 44 seconds as East Lyme defeated Norwich Free Academy (19-39) and Waterford (15-50) in a boys’ and girls’ tri-meet to leave the Vikings undefeated at 7-0 overall and 2-0 in Division I of the Eastern Connecticut Conference. NFA also beat Waterford 15-50.
Waterford sophomore Avery Maiese won the girls’ meet, with both races featuring a stretch along the water on the wind-swept day, in 20:03. East Lyme, which topped Waterford 20-41 and NFA 15-49, took second through seventh place with Kennedy Holsapple, Izzy Paggioli, Aranza Torres, Kayleigh Jensen, Hannah Bergeron and Ava Mauri. Waterford edged NFA 26-29.
For East Lyme, which has won five straight ECC girls’ championships and four straight boys’ titles, it’s a matter of upholding tradition.
“I really like leading this team. Sean (McCauley, a sophomore) is right there with me. Him and I are going to trade off all season,” Fant said. “We train together. We talk about our race plans together. I just love leading this team. I’m glad with the success we’ve had thus far.”
McCauley was second in 16:54 and NFA’s Ethan Manfredi third in 17:00, with East Lyme’s Nate Bergman (17:12) and Ted Bergman (17:29) taking the four and five spots.
McCauley, whose older brother Ryan was a member of East Lyme’s 2017 Class MM state championship team, began contributing to the history of the Vikings as a freshman last season when he was 17th in the state meet in 18:12. By the spring season, McCauley had run a 4:37 mile.
As far as tradition on the girls’ side, Holsapple, now a senior, was a freshman when the Vikings decided to make cardboard cutouts of Flynn’s dog as a spirit-building exercise. On Tuesday, the Vikings (6-0, 2-0), captained by Holsapple and Bergeron, used eye black to draw Batman masks around their eyes.
“We’ve always kind of had a very fun, playful embodiment,” Holsapple said. “This is kind of the same thing. We want to do some things, bring the team together, have fun, show that we’re really fun people but also go into it and be really strong competitors.”
“They always have some kind of character and personality which is huge,” Flynn said. “I stress that to them at the start of the season every year: ‘Our expectations are here, but you all create the personality of the team.’”
But, Flynn said, the teams both have the ability to flip the switch into competition mode, as they did Tuesday against a solid field which included NFA teams that were also both unbeaten.
“It’s two teams that really love running and they really love competing,” Flynn said of the East Lyme boys’ and girls’ sides. “They let me know at the beginning of the summer, ‘We really want to see how good we can get.’ Those tough summer months, especially July and August, weren’t as tough for them because they wanted to be doing it.
“They really rise up.”
Maiese is a newcomer to the Waterford girls’ team, which is off to a 5-2 start and is 2-0 in ECC Division II. She played soccer last fall, the sport she has played the longest, but she went on to win ECC titles in the 1,000 meters indoors and the 3,200 outdoors.
She attended Northeast Kingdom Running Camp over the summer in Vermont.
“I started running track in eighth grade,” Maiese said. “I decided to do cross country because I realized that running was my real passion and what I wanted to do in college and stuff like that. ... I love it. It’s super fun. I love running and my team is great.”