East Lyme boys capture Class MM state cross country title
Manchester — Sam Whittaker was initially disappointed to finish third as an individual Saturday morning in the Class MM state boys' cross country championship at Wickham Park.
He felt a little bit better when he turned around after the uphill finish and saw East Lyme High School teammate Ryan McCauley right behind him in fourth place … and then sophomore Chris Abbey in sixth.
“If I didn't win and we lost, I probably would have blamed myself,” said Whittaker, an East Lyme junior and last week's Eastern Connecticut Conference champion. “I thought I let my team down.”
Only Whittaker did nothing of the sort.
East Lyme won the Class MM team title with 60 points, outdistancing Weston (73) and Guilford (118).
It was just one year after the Vikings finished seventh in the division and spent the entire bus ride home making plans for down the road. Coach Sam Harfenist said the runners spelled out each detail of the following season, which teams to pick off during the regular season, team bonding events, everything.
“It was a dream to win and we did,” Whittaker said. “The NFA coach (Chad Johnson) came up and said 'Good job. You guys won.' I was like, 'We did?'
“Two years ago (when state champion Vann Moffett graduated), I thought, 'Who else do we got?' He was a pretty good inspiration. When I was a freshman he was way up here and I was way down here.”
Whittaker finished in 17 minutes, 12 seconds, with McCauley in 17:13 and Abbey in 17:27. Freshman Fisher Macklin came in 19th in 18:10 and junior Noah Barnhart completed the scoring, 28th in 18:26. Also competing for East Lyme were Elijah Montleon (35th) and Eain Goolsbey (60th).
It was the Vikings' first state championship since winning the Class M meet in 1970, earning runner-up finishes in 2001 and 2004.
“Senior year, I knew it was special; I wanted it to be a special meet,” said McCauley, the only senior among the top five. “Since Vann was a senior, it's always been 'in a couple years, we can do this.' Since I've been a freshman, I've always wanted to go to the Aqua Turf (where the all-state banquet is held).
“… We have a great group of guys. For Fisher, our freshman, to be in the spotlight like this, is amazing.”
The Vikings gathered around Harfenist at the finish line while he gleefully crunched the numbers.
“There was no plan after today,” Harfenist said with a smile. “… They're all really happy for each other. They knew when they were going up that hill (at the finish), they were all going up that hill. It's completely awesome. They're just all together. They all care about how each other did. They earned their legacy.”
The fastest race of the day among local runners belonged to Ledyard's Zak King, who was second in Class M in 16:47, qualifying him for the State Open. He trailed only Tolland's Killian McNamee, who won the race in 16:38.
Also qualifying for the Open as an individual was Wheeler's Teddy Nosiku, who is an exchange student from Zambia. Nosiku, a first-time runner as a senior, was eighth in Class S in 18:04.
“All I did was play soccer,” said Nosiku, who hopes to attend college in the United States, of his athletic experiences growing up. “I'm pretty sure I'm good in playing soccer. … My friends who first approached me and talked to me were running cross country.”
Nosiku arrived in the U.S. in February, having never seen snow before.
“It's a surprise,” Nosiku said of his all-state finish. “I wasn't looking for it.”
King, a senior, was second to Whittaker in the ECC meet and grinned as he crossed the finished line Saturday for another second place. King is coming off an IT band injury he suffered over the summer.
“Coming in second in ECCs and second in state Class M, that's crazy,” King said. “I think I took it out really smart. I was in, like, 30th the first mile, which in my opinion is one of the hardest parts of the course. … My goal was to break 16:50, so I got it. I peaked at the right meet.”
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