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    Saturday, November 26, 2022

    A newcomer to XC, Waterford’s Maiese wins ECC title, while EL girls are top team

    Waterford’s Avery Maiese takes a large lead early in the girls’ race of the Eastern Connecticut Conference cross country championship Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022 at the Norwich Golf Course. Maiese placed first in the race. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    NFA’s Eliana Duclos and Lyman Memorial’s Hazel DeLucia reach the top of a hill during the girls’ race of the Eastern Connecticut Conference cross country championship Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022 at the Norwich Golf Course. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Saint Bernard’s Helena Coury approaches the finish line to place third in the girls’ race of the Eastern Connecticut Conference cross country championship Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022 at the Norwich Golf Course. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Ledyard’s Kate Littler, Montville’s Maya Suarez and East Lyme’s Kennedy Holsapple during the girls’ race of the Eastern Connecticut Conference cross country championship Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022 at the Norwich Golf Course. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Norwich — He has coached several different sports at Waterford High School, including wrestling, and rarely, Chris Gamble said, has he seen someone with as much fortitude as Avery Maiese.

    “Mentally, she’s as strong as anybody I’ve ever coached,” Gamble said. “Absolutely, there’s a lot of parallels between cross country runners and wrestlers when it comes to that mindset.”

    Maiese, a sophomore who played for the Waterford girls’ soccer team last season, won the Eastern Connecticut Conference girls’ cross country championship Thursday in 20 minutes, 29 seconds over 3.1 miles at Norwich Golf Course.

    She led from start to finish, putting open space between herself and the rest of the field with an immediate sprint, topping Montville senior Maya Suarez, who finished second in 20:52, and St. Bernard freshman Helena Coury, who was third in 21:03.

    East Lyme won its sixth straight team title with 50 points, placing its first five in the top 20. Ledyard was second with 73 and Woodstock Academy third with 93.

    “That’s exactly why I’m going back to her having the mental toughness that only a few athletes have,” Gamble said of Maiese’s dash at the starting line. “You’re laying it all out there. This is a 3.1-mile course and she’s willing to take it out there, run her race and not get distracted by anything else. That’s impressive for anybody.”

    “Starting really strong, it’s a good tactic for me because I always start off strong and it usually leads me to a (personal best) or a victory or something like that,” Maiese said. “It’s really difficult, but in the end it pays off. I do get tired and I do think that any moment I’m going to get passed by somebody else, but I have to think, ‘Just keep going, just keep going.’”

    Maiese said she began playing soccer when she was 3 and the sport taught her a great deal of discipline. She began running in the eighth grade — “from the first moment I started, I just knew that I really loved it,” she said.

    She has ECC indoor and outdoor track titles to her credit but had never run cross country.

    She classified herself as “in shock,” exhausted and hungry following the victory.

    “When I crossed the finish line, it dawned on me that I won and I was just super excited,” she said.

    Rounding out the top 10 were East Lyme’s Kennedy Holsapple (fourth), Lyman Memorial’s Hazel Delucia (fifth), East Lyme’s Aranza Torres (sixth), Ledyard’s Kate Littler (seventh), NFA’s Eliana Duclos (eighth), Ledyard’s Ella Stephenson (ninth) and Stonington’s Peyton Vanderstreet (10th).

    Also scoring for East Lyme were Kayleigh Jensen (11th), Izzy Paggioli (13th) and Hannah Bergeron (20th), joined by varsity runners Ava Mauri (22nd) and Maya D’Aquila (24th).

    East Lyme is led by senior captains Holsapple and Bergeron. This is Bergeron’s first season running the ECC meet as a member of the varsity, improving her time by more than three minutes since last season.

    “Hannah’s always been very talented,” East Lyme coach Mike Flynn said of Bergeron’s success. “She’s the most amazing teammate and supportive, but she would always say, ‘Well, I’m just average.’ And for the last year I’ve stressed to her, ‘Hannah, you’re better than that. If you’re as nice to yourself as you are to all of your teammates, you’re really gonna make a leap.’”

    East Lyme was third in last year’s Class MM state championship meet and returns six of the top seven.

    “I was so excited for everyone,” Bergeron said of Thursday’s triumph. “We’ve all been working really hard this year, even since the beginning of summer training. I was so happy that we all came out and we won; we didn’t want to work so hard and get passed last minute. It’s insane. The team is such a strong team.”

    East Lyme won the season-long ECC Division I title, with Ledyard defending its Division II crown. St. Bernard was the top Division III team at the meet, giving the Saints a tie for the championship with Montville, and Wheeler claimed Division IV.

    “That’s what we wanted, and we were really happy we got it,” Ledyard’s Littler, also new to cross country this year, said of the division title. “I love running, I love the team. It’s been a great experience.”

    v.fulkerson@theday.com

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