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    Wednesday, May 22, 2024

    The Day’s 2022 All-Area Girls’ Cross Country Runner of the Year: Old Lyme’s Chase Gilbert

    Old Lyme High School freshman Chase Gilbert was named The Day’s 2022 All-Area Girls’ Cross Country Runner of the Year. Gilbert became the first girl from Old Lyme to win the Shoreline Conference title since 2009, running the fastest 5K time in the state this season in 18 minutes, 7.5 seconds, and followed that with a Class S state championship. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Old Lyme’s Chase Gilbert won the Class S state championship Oct. 29 at Manchester’s Wickham Park in 19 minutes, 12 seconds, the third fastest time in any of that day’s six divisional races. Gilbert was third in the State Open (19:12) and went on to finish 13th in 19:04.11 to earn second team All-New England honors. Gilbert ran the fastest girls’ 5K time in Connecticut this season in 18:07.5. (Day file photo)

    The Old Lyme High School girls’ cross country team was on its return trip from the State Open, for which it had qualified as a team.

    One member of the team, freshman Chase Gilbert, was then set to move on to the New England championship meet the following week at Ponaganset High School in North Scituate, Rhode Island. Gilbert was third in the State Open in 19 minutes, 12 seconds.

    The remainder of the Wildcats, done for the season, asked coach Courtney Baklik if they could keep coming to practice along with Gilbert.

    “I haven’t seen this much excitement around running,” Baklik said. “The rest of the team didn’t need to be there. So many kids were there; they totally took that upon themselves.

    “(Gilbert) is such a strong individual athlete, that (sense of team) could go the other way. She used her resources and her support system. The runners on the team came out to Rhode Island for her.”

    Gilbert, this season’s Shoreline Conference and Class S state champion, was named The Day’s 2022 All-Area Girls’ Cross Country Runner of the Year.

    After her third-place finish in the State Open, Gilbert, backed by a cheering section of Wildcats, was 13th in New England in 19:04.11 — the top freshman finisher — to earn second team All-New England honors.

    She played soccer in middle school before turning to running.

    It turns out that one of Gilbert’s best memories of running, competing in the Niantic Jingle Bell 5K along with her father Patrick, was a fun one.

    “I didn’t really play many sports. I just did it for recreation with my dad. The holiday seasons, the Jingle Bell in Niantic,” Gilbert said. “I think that’s where the love started just because I had so much fun.

    “I do remember one time, the one in Niantic, it started snowing at the starting line and it just got really festive because everybody was wearing their Christmas gear and the snow falling gave it a really nice vibe. I had just so much fun.”

    In middle school she found team sports, soccer and lacrosse, but both those still contained components of running and she ran on her own for conditioning. The running never left her.

    Gilbert began her first career cross country season by finishing the Connecticut River Valley Invitational at Cromwell in 18:34, the best girls’ 5K time of the season to that point. She later won the Shoreline Conference title in 18:07.5, which remained as Connecticut’s top time of the season, as well as setting the Old Lyme school record at that distance.

    Gilbert calls her immediate success unexpected.

    “I came in feeling confident and I was excited to meet my new teammates and I was excited just to start the high school thing because it’s more competitive than middle school was,” Gilbert said. “After each accomplishment, I set a new goal for myself and I found myself at New Englands.”

    Baklik, in her third season, said the drive for such excellence came from Gilbert herself.

    “I’ve personally never coached a cross country athlete all the way through to New Englands,” Baklik said. “Of course, it’s all the more unexpected when you see that success from a freshman, one that puts her all into every race and into her training.

    “She always gives the most that she can give. She’s really internally motivated to do that. She always does the best she can do within each training session. I do think she has a lot of natural ability but it did seem like she found her passion this season, also.”

    Baklik credited Old Lyme boys’ cross country coach Aron D’Aquila — the two coaches mentor the boys’ and girls’ teams in tandem, Baklik said — athletic director Hildie Heck (also a longtime runner), Gilbert’s parents Patrick and Tina and the rest of the Wildcats’ girls’ team for all supporting the freshman.

    Old Lyme finished second as a team in the Class S championship, getting contributions from throughout the lineup.

    “I loved meeting that team,” Gilbert said. “We really built that close bond. I’m just so happy we were able to go far, go to State Opens with each other.”

    Gilbert said there was a learning curve, especially at the New England meet. There were so many talented runners that day, she said it caused her to do a double-take.

    “I just have to stay humble in that regard,” she said. “I knew coming into it there were girls out there who were far faster than me. I just wanted to give it my best shot because I was already proud I just made it to that point.”

    Gilbert continues to play club lacrosse. She is the president of the Old Lyme freshman class, a high honors student and member of the school choir, who likes drawing, math and skiing.

    “She’s got some real maturity for her age,” Baklik said. “She’s well-spoken. She takes her endeavors really seriously. She does think about how she wants to work hard, she wants to do as well as she can.

    “She’s not out there thinking, ‘I want to get this over with.’ She’s there. She’s ready. She really values every achievement.”

    v.fulkerson@theday.com

    The Day’s 2022 All-Area Girls’ Cross Country Team

    Player of the Year - Chase Gilbert (Old Lyme)

    Helena Coury (St. Bernard)

    Hazel DeLucia (Lyman Memorial)

    Eliana Duclos (NFA)

    Kennedy Holsapple (East Lyme)

    Kate Littler (Ledyard)

    Avery Maiese (Waterford)

    Maya Suarez (Montville)

    Aranza Torres (East Lyme)

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