By Special Correspondent John Altavilla
MANCHESTER - Perhaps the toughest thing to do in sports, of any variety at any level, is repeat as a champion.
Conditions change. Athletes come and go. Attitudes shift. Injuries happen. Luck takes a hike. You get the point. It's hard.
So, image what Xavier’s Boys cross country team was thinking when the 2018 season began. The Falcons had won the 2017 CIAC State Open when a gifted class grabbed five of the top 16 spots in the finals at Wickham Park.
But even with four runners returning from that team, how would the passage of time impact them?
“I’d always heard how it tough it was to go back-to-back after winning your first state championship,” said Xavier coach Chris Stonier. “The boys certainly had that in the back of their minds.”
The first rung was climbed when Xavier won the Class L title last week. And then on an unseasonable warm afternoon Thursday, it got the job done. Again.
Robbie Cozean (3rd, 16:11), Peter Schulten (5th,16:16), Dillon Selfors (9th, 16:27), William Curran (14th, 16:35) and Julen Lujambio (54th, 17:29) banded together to give Xavier another State Open title. It was their thirteenth in school history and third since 2000.
“How would I express my feelings? Relieved,” said Stonier.
The Boys Open champion was New Milford’s Eli Nahom with a time of 15:54, cutting one second off his winning time from last week’s Class L title. Nahom outlasted Conard freshman Gavin Sherry (16:04), who had finished second in Class LL. Sherry’s finish ranked as highest place for a ninth-grader since 2001, according to CIAC records that included an athlete’s grade.
Eli Nahom of New Milford finished first in Boys State Open (photo by Ron Knapp, MySportsResults.com)
Gavin Sherry of New Milford finished second in Boys State Open (photo by Ron Knapp, MySportsResults.com)
For Nahom, the progression from a fifth-place finish in last year’s State Open (16:11) seemed a matter of genetic predisposition. His father and mother, Mike and Michele, were outstanding runners at the University of Colorado. His sister, Mia, two years older than Eli, was a track conference, state and New England champion in 2017.
“I was really happy with it. There were a lot of great runners in the race,” said Nahom. “I was the second returner behind Robert Dillon (Shelton High). I knew he would be a threat, but I had to come in confident. I extremely nervous coming in. I picked it up, like I always do, near the Green Monster. Some of the runners started to fall off and I decided to pick it up. I wanted to go out a little later, but you have to be able to read the race. This (winning the State Open) has been a goal of mine since the eighth grade.”
Dillon finished 11th in 16:33. Nonnewaug’s Eddie Nicholas, the Class SS champion, finished sixth (16:20). Class LL champion Miller Anderson of Hall was eighth (16:24) Shane Henderson of Old Saybrook, the Class S titlist, was 13th (16:31) and Samuel Whittaker of East Lyme, the Class MM champ, was 16th (16:36).
Xavier (75 points), Hall (121), Tolland (122), Staples (123), Suffield (179) and Danbury (207) all advanced to next weekend’s New England Cross Country championships as will the top 25 runners in both the boys and girls races.
The competition for Girls State Open individual title was far less eventful, dominated by Pomperaug’s spectacular sophomore Kate Wiser, who finished second in the State Open as a ninth-grader last season to Wilton’s Morgan McCormick.
After racing to the best time of the class championships last week (18:32) to win the Class MM title, Wiser ramped it up in a major way to win the Open in 17:59. She was 59 seconds better than second-place finisher, New Milford freshman Claire Daniels (18:58), the Class L champion.
Kate Wiser of Pomperaug finished first in State Open Race (photo by Ron Knapp, MySportsResults.com)
Claire Daniels of New Milford finished second in State Open Race (photo by Ron Knapp, MySportsResults.com)
“I was holding back a bit (at the class championship) because my calf was bothering me,” said Wiser. “Today, I just went harder. I decided to go out to the lead, push the second mile and finish strong at the third.”
Wiser ran Wickham in 18:42 at last year’s Open, 19 seconds off McCormick’s winning pace. One week later, Wiser ran fifth at the New England championship in 17:53.16, the fastest freshman in the race.
“I’ve learned a lot over the year from my coaches and from my training over the summer. I believe I just understand the sport so much better now,” said Wiser. “No one in my family has been a runner. I just like knowing that if you put the work in with this sport, you will get the results. That’s something special to me.”
Wiser avenged those defeats during last year’s indoor and outdoor seasons by defeating McCormick to win the 3200m State Open championships. She is now one of the state’s top stars.
Class LL champion Mari Noble of Greenwich was third (18:59) in Thursday’s Open. Kathryn Rodrigues, the Class SS titlist from Wolcott was fourth (19:10). Rocky Hill’s Elizabeth Stockman, who won Class M, finished sixth (19:21) and Class S champ, Kylie Raymond of Somers, was 13th (19:38).
The seventh-place finish by Lauren Moore (19:21) fueled the Danbury Girls first State Open title with 115 points, nosing out Immaculate (116). The Hatters finished second last season to Glastonbury.
“After we won the LL championship we started to get very excited and motivated about this,” said Moore. “The program has always been able to focus on whatever season we are in. But once the season changes, we come in confident that we can build off from previous season. The motto for the season was “Togetherness.”
Ridgefield (160), Trumbull (165), Glastonbury (178) and Greenwich (183) are also headed to the 84th New England Interscholastic XC Championships at Derryfield Park in Manchester NH on Saturday, November 10, 2018.
The complete meet results are available for the CIAC State Open XC Championships on the Results page sponsored by soundRUNNER Team Nights with stores in Branford, Fairfield, Glastonbury and Old Saybrook. The meet was held at Wickham Park in Manchester CT on Thursday November 1, 2018.
Stay tuned for further meet coverage with Photo Galleries from both races.
NOTE: MySportsResults.com publishes the results received/posted from meet directors and timing companies. If you don't see your results or if you think that the results are incorrect then ask your local coach to contact the meet director to send us the corrected meet results. Do not send an email to MySportsResults asking to correct the posted results.