East Lyme, Montville's Whittaker rule the day in ECC girls' cross country race
Norwich — Mady Whittaker had just caught her breath after the race of her life Thursday afternoon, knowing that she wasn’t merely the Eastern Connecticut Conference champion, but a sudden historical figure within Montville High School lore and legend.
“Thirty-two years,” Whittaker said, effortlessly recalling the history as if reciting her phone number. “Kelly Hawkes.”
And there in one line Whittaker illustrated the significance of her achievement. It had been 32 years since a cross country runner from Montville won the ECC title. Hawkes did so in 1985.
“My coach (Steve LaBranche) said it to me like five times a day,” Whittaker said with a wry grin, after finishing the 5,000-meter course in 20 minutes, 25 seconds. “It means the world to me. I’ve always looked up to her.”
Whittaker said she knows Hawkes, a recent inductee into the Montville Sports Hall of Fame, through LaBranche. Pretty neat, the rhythms of history sometimes.
Whittaker finished ahead of Lily Anderson of Stonington (21:20), Stella Dipippo of Woodstock Academy (21:27), Rasa Kirvelevicius of East Lyme (21:50) and Genevieve Buckridge of Norwich Free Academy (21:54). Notably absent from the top five was potential race favorite Catie Shannon of NFA, who sustained an injury during the race and didn’t finish.
“I was kind of in shock when I saw (Shannon’s injury),” Whittaker said. “I don’t (normally) look behind me so I didn’t know if she got up and kept going.”
NFA coach Kara Kochanski Vendola said Shannon suffered a muscle strain to her quad.
Kirvelevicius joined teammates Claire Mason and Bri Am Ende in the top 10, giving the Vikings the coveted ECC Div. I title. Last season, NFA won the regular-season finale between the programs only to lose to East Lyme in the ECC championship meet.
“I told the kids a couple of weeks ago we wanted to get five kids in the top 15,” East Lyme coach Mike Flynn said. “I think our four and five runners might have thought I was a little crazy. But after the NFA meet (a victory last week in Norwich) I think they saw it was possible.”
Sam Lyster and Alicia Lan, 12th and 13th overall respectively, gave East Lyme five runners in the top 15.
“The next step for the program is at the state level,” Flynn said. “Last year, we ran a perfect race (at the ECC championships) and I think mentally they peaked. They actually didn’t feel too well today. But they’ve learned how to race when they don’t feel well.”
East Lyme won the overall race ahead of NFA, Stonington, St. Bernard and Woodstock.
St. Bernard (Christina McCaffrey, Serena Britner, Brigid Kunka, Rachel Kunka, Sophia Duhig, Payton McCauley, Claudia Pascual) won Div. III while Stonington (Anderson, Elizabeth Gray, Lindsey Orr, Abigail Remmert, Caroline Morehouse, Mary Gray, Sasha Oakes) won Div. II.
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