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    Thursday, April 18, 2024

    Everything is starting to come into focus for East Lyme, which sweeps NFA in cross country

    Jilali Benjdid leads a pack of East Lyme runners during Tuesday’s tri-meet at Mohegan Park in Norwich. The Vikings remained unbeaten with wins over Norwich Free Academy and Bacon Academy. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    East Lyme’s Maya D'Aquila, right, and Aranza Torres set the early pace during Tuesday’s cross country meet against NFA and Bacon Academy at Mohegan Park in Norwich. The Vikings swept the meet to remain unbeaten. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Norwich Free Academy’s Patrick Croughwell pushes up a hill during his individual win in a tri-meet against East Lyme and Bacon Academy on Tuesday at Mohegan Park in Norwich. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Norwich Free Academy’s Karina Chan runs alone while winning top honors during Tuesday’s tri-meet against East Lyme and Bacon Academy on Tuesday at Mohegan Park in Norwich. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Norwich — There’s still a few weeks, East Lyme boys’ cross country coach Mike Flynn was saying, before he gets into “the super-focused talks and all that stuff,” with his team, the defending Class MM state champion.

    “I don’t say anything to them before they run these races,” Flynn said. “They’re competitive naturally. They know these early-season races are just to go out, see how you feel, get the work in.”

    State championship-level laser focus comes a bit later.

    But that didn’t stop the unbeaten Vikings from a flood of maroon and black at the finish line Tuesday afternoon at Mohegan Park.

    East Lyme placed seven of the top 10 runners in the tri-meet, beating Eastern Connecticut Conference Division I rival Norwich Free Academy 21-38 and Bacon Academy 15-50. NFA topped Bacon 14-48.

    The East Lyme girls also won a pair of meets with victories over NFA (27-31) and Bacon Academy (21-38). NFA edged Bacon 25-32.

    NFA had the two individual champions on the day with Karina Chan finishing in 21 minutes, 37 seconds, over the 5K race, a personal best on the course by more than three minutes. Patrick Croughwell took the boys’ race in 17:09.1.

    But it was East Lyme with a sweep as it related to the team scores.

    East Lyme’s Matthew Carrier was second in the boys’ race (17:15.3), followed by Jilali Benjdid third, Sam Leone fourth and Nathan Bergman fifth. Sean McCauley, East Lyme’s top finisher in last year’s state championship race, did not compete Tuesday due to what Flynn referred to as a nagging injury.

    The rest of the crew, many of them sophomores last season, were all business for the Vikings (5-0 overall, 2-0 ECC Division I).

    “All those guys. They’re just so talented,” said Flynn, who earlier in the season said that in all his years of coaching he’s “never had a deeper, more talented and fit group than this.”

    “They work together. They knew with Sean not racing today they were going to have to step up because they couldn’t count on having the first-place finish,” Flynn said. “They did a really good job.”

    “It’s definitely come together a lot since last year,” Carrier said. “We’re all like a minute faster about. We really want to make New Englands (as a team). Once October hits, we start going harder. I think as a team we’ll be able to accomplish a lot this year.”

    NFA is 6-1 overall, 1-1 in the ECC, while Bacon is 3-4 overall.

    In the girls’ meet, Chan and freshman Helen Muench (21:40) completed a 1-2 finish for NFA, but they were followed by East Lyme’s Maya D’Aquila (21:54), Aranza Torres (21:59) and Rachel Quadrato (23:17).

    East Lyme (5-0, 2-0) lost four of its top seven girls from last season’s team which won its sixth straight ECC championship and finished third in Class MM. NFA is 5-2 overall, 1-1 in the ECC and Bacon is 3-4 overall.

    “It’s definitely a very different adjustment,” D’Aquila said. “I have a different place on the team than I did last year. It’s more of a step up.

    “We lost six or seven seniors, but I think it’s going good. It’s fun to see some of the underclassmen kind of pick it up and see them grow over the season. For most of them I think we’ve all known their potential and now they’re tapping into it.”

    Chan, meanwhile, was NFA’s No. 5 runner at last year’s ECC championship but has gained physical strength and confidence, coach Kara Kochanski-Vendola said.

    “One thing (former assistant coach) Kevin Crowley taught me was you have to give them a plan,” Kochanski-Vendola said. “She stuck to the plan. It is a Crowley trick. The plan was just to see how she was feeling after mile 2 and then, when she got to the ‘dead zone’ where no one’s watching, to race a little harder.”

    “I did not think I would do this well at all because last year my times got slower and slower each meet,” Chan said. “But I’m really surprised. I ran really hard this time. I was very happy.”

    v.fulkerson@theday.com

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