CROSS COUNTRY 2021: Older stars remain, but it’s mostly a fresh pace that waits to be set



MERIDEN — It’s something of a transitional season for area cross country.

Even with proven standouts returning in Southington (Jackie Izzo, Jake Nafis) and in Cheshire (Meghan Georgescu, Olivia Ferraro), local teams must replace runners who have been their among their best for multiple seasons.

Cheshire’s Ryan Farrell and Southington’s Grace Michaud, last season’s Record-Journal Cross Country Runners of the Year, have moved on to college programs.

Ditto for Sheehan’s Liz Brown and Maloney’s Reynaldo Torres and Xavier Zaler.

Lyman Hall has big shoes to fill with the graduation of Jack Murphy, who first made the All-RJ grade as a sophomore.

Who will move to the fore to set the new pace? Here’s how the area teams look as the 2021 season gets off the line.

Southington

The boys project to have junior twins Jake and Drew Nafis and seniors Grayson Borla and Brendan Leone in the top four, with the fifth runner to be determined.

Jake Nafis is a guy to watch. He was a finalist for R-J Male Cross Country of the Year last fall.

The Southington girls will be led by senior Jackie Izzo, a standout since her freshman year. She was R-J Female Cross Country of the Year in 2019 as a sophomore and rebounded from injury last fall as a junior to help the Lady Knights break the girls school record for cumulative team time (96:36).

Diane Pillsbury and Grace Michaud (Quinnipiac) have graduated from that record-setting squad. Izzo and sophomore Jessica Lombardo are back.

Seniors Megan Wadman and Megan Bissoni, plus sophomore Ava Egan are projected to round out this year’s top 5.

Billy Liebler is a promising newcomer for the boys, Maddie Bafundo for the girls. Both are freshmen.

The Blue Knights have a strong squad and will post some of the area’s best times.

It probably won’t show in their record, however. Southington runs in a hyper-competitive CCC against the likes of Conard, Hall and Glastonbury.

“We’re likely a .500 team for lack of depth unless someone steps up on both sides,” Southington coach Dan Dachelet said. 

Cheshire

Rob Schaefer has been coaching Cheshire girls cross country for 34 years, so he’s got some perspective. The 2021 season, he says, “could be one of our best years in a long time.”

Schaefer’s girls were 8-2 last year and fifth overall in the SCC. The Rams graduated a solid runner in Cate Bedard, but return a deep core led by All-SCC Second-Team selections Meghan Georgescu and Olivia Ferraro.

They are senior captains along with Maria Fiore. Cheshire also brings back juniors Alex Palladino and Katie Hall, who were both injured for most of last season.

Then there are the newcomers. Sophomores Alexa Ciccone and Mia Ventos are coming off stellar freshman track seasons. Ciccone ran a top-10 school time in the 3200. Vientos logged the second-best girls 800 time in school history in winning the SCC championship in that event.

Freshman Eva Curran ran a sub-six-minute mile in middle school.   

“We will be a completely different team this year,” Schaefer said. “We have the perfect blend of two talented senior leaders with lots of experience, two experienced runners who are coming off injury-prone seasons last year who are hungry to get back to business, and three exceptionally talented first-year runners who were born to run cross country.”

Coach Pam Gunneson’s boys, meanwhile, must again replace the R-J Male Cross Country of the Year. It was Brendan Mellitt (Bucknell) last fall. It’s Ryan Farrell (Louisville) this year.

The Rams do return several key runners from last season’s 7-3 squad, starting with senior Robert DiNatale. Juniors Colin Grevelding, Luca Bors Baba and Michael DeJosephare are back, as are sophomores Tyler Caron and Daniel D'Souza.

“We are a young team, but I expect to have a strong season led by Robert DiNatale,” Gunneson said.

Sheehan

Coach Frank Mohr’s Titans have bid farewell to their leading light for the past four years, Liz Brown. She’s now running at Siena College.

They do bring back their leading male runner, Anthony Galicia, who had a breakout season last year as a junior. Galicia is now senior captain with Jose Camargo.

The girls will be paced by senior captain Arianna Amodio and sophomore Angelika Kotula.

Mohr said he would like to see both of his teams set personal records as the season moves on. It starts this afternoon at home against East Haven, Hillhouse, Mercy and Xavier.

Lyman Hall

The landscape is mixed for the Trojans. The boys were 5-3 last season, but lost two key cogs to graduation in captain Jack Murphy and Aidan Weir. The girls were 3-4, but bring back their entire top 5.

Top returners for the boys are senior captain Aydan Durant, junior Peyton Durant and sophomore Henry Murphy.

Freshmen Tom and Tim Conklin are the rookies to watch. The Trojans also welcome junior Eli Dineen, sophomore Paul Mundakkal and freshmen Noah Scalesse and Callum Sletcher to the fold.

The LH girls line up behind captains Olivia Weir and Madison Jackson and fellow seniors Emily Chase and Nicole Bernard. Chase was All-RJ a year ago in her first season running cross country.

Emma Tommell and Julie Ellis are returning juniors. Sophomore Riley Stackpole is also back. Promising newcomers include senior Kaelin Barrionuevo, junior Anna Skotnicki and freshman Delayna Strahowski.

Numbers were an issue last year for the Trojans. Not so in ’21. They have a combined roster of 28.

“I am still evaluating the potential talent, but I do have some idea and encouragement from the first couple of weeks,” said coach Mike Addorsio. “I am looking for a solid season from both the boys and girls as the potential help from the incoming freshmen is there.

“Last year, three of the four loses the girls suffered was due to having only four runners compete. I am excited for the season to begin.”

Wilcox Tech

The boys return six runners to coach Dave Cronin’s squad: senior Kristian Marroquin, juniors Joseph Antoniani and Jacob Clemente, sophomores Luke Frommelt, Hunter Herbst and Michael Zacchia.

Deepening the fold are first-year runners Sam Gonzalez,a senior, and Devon Diaz, a sophomore. Patrick Sullivan comes aboard as a freshman.

Antoniani and Diaz are competing for the top spot and the Indians are projected to be competitive in the Connecticut Technical Conference.

As for coach Rob Janiga’s girls, they went unbeaten in last year’s abbreviated season, but did not face any teams that had at least five runners to score.

Junior Madison Milano returns and projects as the leading Wilcox runner. Senior Haley Pericozzi and juniors Ava Quinn and Jaylin Aguilar are also back. Junior Alenny Perez returns after not running last year.

Promising newcomers are sophomores Karinna Sanchez and Alexis Bacote-Rivera and freshmen Amari Jones and Odette Galvez-Salazar.

“We have a lot of newcomers and some show promise,” Janiga said. “They work hard every day and are nice kids. Hopefully, with a little luck, we will be competitive.”

As far as who will join Milano in the top five, Janiga said it could be anyone on any given day.

“Anybody can move into those top five positions moving forward,” Janiga said.

Platt

The Panthers continue to rebuild their program behind senior Jaliz Cordero on the girls team and seniors Josh Gonzalez and Nelson Rondon on the boys team.

Junior Anthony Hernandez and sophomoer Jomar Cruz are also back for coach Samantha Wolfer.

The most promising sign? Numbers. The Panthers now have enough runners to field full teams for both the boys and the girls.

“I am really excited for this season,” Wolfer said. “On the boys side we have four returning runners. They will be a great example for our new members of the team. We also have some first-year team members on the girls side who should prove to be an asset to the team.

“It will be another growing year for us with quite a few first-time runners, but we are looking forward to it.”

Maloney

Coach Derek Destefano and his Spartans turn a major page after their matching 4-3 seasons of a year ago.

Reynaldo Torres and Xavier Zaler, the 1-2 runners on the boys team, are now competing at Central Connecticut State. Kristen McCormack graduated from the girls team.

Those are big shoes to fill, yet the Spartans have the numbers to do it. The rosters of both teams are larger than a year ago.

The boys bring back seniors Jack Curry and Jack DePalma, who are this year’s captains. Also back are senior George Hall, juniors Tristyn Barnes and Taylor Bello, and sophomores Griffin DePalma and Anthony Arroyo.

The girls captain is a junior, Savannah Vasquez, who won last year’s city championship. She’ll be joined by seniors Nancy Nguyen and Isabelle Smith, junior Cadence Browne and sophomore Samantha Park.

“Last year was difficult for our team when it came to numbers, but our core stayed strong and we are ready for a full 2021 season," Destefano said. “We already have a bigger team then last year — a team I already see a lot of potential in, especially with our new runners.

“This is a fresh team with limitless possibilities. Our success will only be measured by how hard we work this fall.” 



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