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Roach, CGA seniors savor opportunity to compete one last time

New London — After competing in her first and only meet of the season, as well as the final one of her Coast Guard Academy cross country career, Maeve Roach expressed gratitude for being able to run one last race with her teammates.

Roach appreciated the hard work put in by the leadership at Coast Guard Academy and rival Merchant Marine and the two coaching staffs to make Saturday's meet happen.

"I'm just really grateful for everyone that contributed to that to give us an opportunity to race one last time," Roach said.

Roach made the best of the opportunity, winning by a comfortable margin of one minute, 26 seconds while posting a personal best time of 17:59. Coast Guard dominated the race, claiming eight of the top nine spots on the way to a 16-47 victory.

The Bears earned the first point of the 2020-21 Superintendents' Trophy competition.

It was a festive atmosphere, as Coast Guard cadets showed up in force, cheering on their classmates throughout the race, which started and finished on the track and consisted of seven laps around a 3.1 mile course. One supporter held up a sign that simply read, "Run Fast."

"To have this day, especially on our campus with so many of the cadets around, it was a lot of fun," coach Ethan Brown said. "It was a special moment for our seniors and a really special moment for our entire team. This is what it's all about. Our coaches put in the time and we want to see them succeed and have a lot of fun in their sport."

Up until late last month, it appeared highly unlikely there would be any competition for the Bears this fall due to coronavirus pandemic-related cancellations. The New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference decided not to play its league schedule.

The Bears went about their business, running team workouts.

Then Coast Guard and Merchant Marine worked out a way to play a series of one-game seasons for the women's cross country, men's soccer, volleyball and football teams.

The cross country team was thrilled to hear the news.

"They were so excited to have the opportunity to put into play all the work and all the miles that we've been putting in this season," Brown said. "To have that expectation that we were really just going to be training and doing time trials with our team, to compete against another school ... our school's rival ... Kings Point, that was a lot of fun."

Coast Guard scored a major victory before stepping up to the starting line on Saturday. Results came back negative for all the Bears, who were tested within 72 hours of the meet.

"That's the real victory being here with everyone healthy," Roach said.

Roach sure looked fit and strong as she motored around the course.

Right from the start, Roach bolted in front and established a comfortable lead that kept growing. She led by 12 seconds after the first lap and by the time she entered the final lap, her lead stood at one minute, 11 seconds.

"She was determined that first mile; I could see it," Brown said. "She was focused. ... The last 50 meters, she was moving. She was really trying to get in there to get under that 18 minute mark."

Roach jumped up and down with joy after learning she set a personal best.

"I had never broken 18 before," Roach said. "It's been my goal since high school. I've been working for it and today I just went out and hung on. I squeaked in at 17:59. I saw that clock counting down and I knew I had to go for it."

Seven of the next eight finishers were Bears.

Freshman Meghan Churm took second (19:25), followed by sophomore Savannah Olyniec (19:39) and freshman Emma Hupp (19:47). Merchant Marine's Sayra Raya was fifth (20:09) and a trio of CGA freshmen — Brigid Kunka (20:13), Ellie Higel (20:17) and Christine Carey (20:40) — took sixth, seventh and eighth, and senior teammate Emma Sims was ninth in 20:41. Kunka is a St. Bernard graduate from Stonington.

"We wanted them to be relaxed and smooth that first mile and I think that energy and excitement really came out, and they all went after it," Brown said. "There were a lot of personal records and a lot of personal bests for a number of the ladies, so I'm really, really proud of their performance today."

The day was capped with a short Senior Day ceremony, recognizing the seven seniors on the roster including All-American Kaitlyn Mooney.

Mooney, who had gallbladder surgery earlier this year, sat out the race. She's been practicing with the team. She's expected to be ready to compete for the indoor track season.

The Bears will continue to train this fall. They'll compete in a virtual 6K race against some New England programs in a few weeks.

"It's been really different," Brown said of the fall season. "What we've found as we've been going through it, we just have to be very flexible and we have to adapt and we have to model the way for our own athletes. That's an important thing.

"Even in a race something may not go well, or even in life something may not go well, and we want to make sure they're learning that along the way and adjusting."

g.keefe@theday.com

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