East Lyme boys win third straight Class MM cross country championship

East Hartford — Prior to the season, there was one publication which produced a preview for Eastern Connecticut Conference cross country teams and predicted East Lyme, without graduated luminary Sam Whittaker, to be closer to average than defending state champion.

"Done for. We needed some resuscitation," East Lyme coach Sam Harfenist said of the published forecast.

"But that's if you only delete the seniors (from each team), how do you do?" Ryan Ainscough, Harfenist's assistant, said.

And that's not the East Lyme High School boys' cross country team.

The Vikings, led by three runners in the top 10, won the Class MM championship for the third straight season Saturday at Wickham Park, finishing with 67 points to 87 for runner-up Avon.

Sophomore Luke Anthony was second in 16 minutes, 39 seconds, with junior Fisher Macklin right behind him in third, crossing the finish line in 16:45. Senior Chris Abbey was seventh in 16:56. Also scoring were Ben Rukundo, 18th in 17:29, and Griffith Posgay, 37th in 18:18.

Macklin, who suffered an Achilles injury last season, was 28th a year ago in 17:52 and Anthony, then a freshman, was 34th in 18:00. They were fifth and sixth, respectively, on the team in the Class MM race. Whittaker was the individual champion last year and Abbey was second.

"We had no idea (what was going to happen Saturday)," Macklin said. "But we've been training for this race all season. We've been preparing as a team. We've been eating lunch together in Harf's room. We thought we could do really well.

"We just know even though Sam was really good, we're really good."

East Lyme's boys' team advanced to Friday's State Open championship, also at Wickham, as did the school's girls' team, which finished second in Class MM. Both East Lyme teams won the ECC championship meet earlier in the week at Norwich Golf Course.

The Vikings were runners-up to E.O. Smith in Saturday's girls' meet, 63-68. East Lyme junior Madison Sjostrom led the way, finishing fifth in 20:33. Senior Sam Lyster was ninth in 20:59 and the trio of Izzy Pazzaglia (21:23), Kennedy Holsapple (21:26) and Isabelle Johnson (21:31) finished 17th through 19th. Senior Gilly Goodwin, usually among the Vikings' top five, was ill. She ran anyway, something coach Mike Flynn believes boosted the spirits of the team, but was East Lyme's sixth runner.

"She's a senior captain," Flynn said of Goodwin. "She is the part of the team. From a vocal standpoint, I think they would have been a little lost (without her). You can't play the 'woulda, coulda' game. The way they got themselves out and didn't make excuses ... they could have said, 'We didn't have Gilly' and went out and just run."

Sjostrom, East Lyme's top runner much of the season, recovered from a disappointing finish at the ECC meet, where she launched somewhat the opposite strategy from what Flynn told her and wound up 16th.

"I didn't listen to Mike," Sjostrom explained. "I went out too fast. I was feeling good that day, then I met the hill. The hill said, 'not today.' I listened today. There are certain points in the race where you go faster and slower. ... I'm proud of my team. We worked really hard this season."

Harfenist, meanwhile, knew his team had a strong top four headed into the season and needed to find a fifth. Ainscough said that Posgay was maybe 11th or 12th on the team when the year started.

"He's our key runner maybe," Macklin said of Posgay now.

"Each year (of the three state championships) I say each one was better," Harfenist said. "This was by far the best one. ... Our program is more family-like. We've been eating together this week. They've been talking about Spirit Week (at school), why they have a test during Spirit Week, can they use my printer ... they genuinely like each other."

The top 12 individuals and top two teams in each of Saturday's eight races qualified for the State Open.

v.fulkerson@theday.com

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