MERIDEN — With the arrival of the 2018-19 scholastic year, the Record-Journal decided to join the pack in full when it comes to picking All-Area teams.
No more conserving energy, no more picking spots to make our moves. We would go full-bore off the line and sustain the pace straight through to the finish that is our annual “Best of the Bunch” awards brunch at the Aqua Turf Club in late June.
That meant expanding our All-Record-Journal teams to every sport.
And so here we are, kicking things off, as our less-than-deft metaphor suggests, with cross country.
Can we sustain the pace? Let’s just say we have confidence in our mileage base just like the following runners, who were the best in their field in the fall of 2018.
Now, the beauty of sizing up cross country is the sport provides the ultimate comparative shopping. At the end of the line, in the state meets, everyone runs the same 3.1-mile course at Manchester’s Wickham Park, the mecca of Connecticut cross country.
So it’s not a case of apples and oranges. It’s one shelf in the produce department.
That said, there are factors that can not be overlooked. Was there a conference champion in the mix? Yes: Donny You of Wilcox Tech.
As the area’s only conference champion, he belongs.
That raised another question. Were there runners who beat conference champs head to head in the dual-meet season? Yes: Dominic Oliveri of Maloney beat You in the Meriden city championships.
He belongs, as does his Maloney teammate Morgan Kicklighter, who defended her Meriden girls championship.
So you see, there is a race within the race. Such is the nature of endurance sports.
At the finish line there are 19 runners —10 boys, 9 girls — who made the cut for the first annual All-Record-Journal Cross Country Team.
Some picks were easy. Some were tricky. Some were awfully tough to leave off.
In the latter category are some fine rookies who made terrific debuts as freshmen: Sheehan’s Arianna Amodio and Lyman Hall’s Olivia Weir; Cheshire’s Tom Longmore and Southington’s Grayson Borla.
Sophomore Aidan Weir is a good one down at Lyman Hall. So is junior Charlie Pettit of Cheshire.
Remember all these names. They’ll be back.
For now, here are the 19 we place at the All-RJ starting line, in order of their best times at Wickham Park.BOYSBrendan Mellitt, jr., Cheshire
With the departure of Record-Journal Cross Country Runner of the Year Brendan Murray to Yale, another Brendan from Cheshire moved to the fore.
Brendan Mellitt truly stands apart. The junior was the lone area runner to go under 17 minutes at Wickham Park this fall. He did it during the regular season at the Wickham Invitational, when he finished second in the seeded race at 16:46, and again in the postseason, when he placed eighth in Class L at 16:36.
Mellitt was named All-State and was the lone area runner to advance to the State Open, where he again ran a 16:36 at Wickham and placed 15th, which qualified him for the New England Championship. Mellitt travelled to Derryfield Park in Manchester, N.H. for that race and ran a 17:13.
Mellitt also earned All-SCC First Team status by finishing seventh in the SCC Championship at New Haven’s East Shore Park in 16:26.Matthew Penna, jr., Southington
This junior had the area’s second-best time at Wickham Park this season when he ran a 17:15 at the Class LL meet.
That time was hardly a one-off. Penna logged a 17:18 at the CCC Championship meet, which was also held at Wickham. That performance earned Penna All-Conference status.Francis Simpatico, jr., Cheshire
In tandem with classmate Brendan Mellitt, this junior ensures the Rams will be formidable again next year with their 1-2 punch back intact.
This fall, you could set a clock by Simpatico. At Wickham Park, he was 15th at the Wickham Invitational in 17:35 and 29th in the Class L meet in 17:38.
Simpatico snagged a spot on the All-SCC Second Team with a 17:28 at the conference meet at East Shore Park.Lucca Riccio, jr., Southington
This junior — detect a trend? — was a consistent No. 2 runner for the Blue Knights. He ran an 18:19 at the Wickham Invitational and earned All-Conference distinction with a 17:50 at the CCC Championship.
His Class LL time was 18:03, second best on the Southington card.Ryan Slesinski, sr., Southington
Senior captain Ryan Slesinski saved one of his best performances for last, running a 17:59 at the Class LL meet.
That was a solid improvement from the CCC Championship, when Slesinski logged a 18:41 on the same Wickham course.
It was more than times, though, that Slesinski brought to the table. “He was a great leader whose racing definitely averaged him to our solid number 3,” said coach Dan Dachelet.Ethan Venoit, jr., Sheehan
The next three runners, all from Wallingford, are like spaghetti. They are that close.
Sheehan junior Ethan Venoit gets the first nod for winning the Wallingford town meet, where he ran an 18:47 on his home course to edge teammate Derrick Arnold and Lyman Hall’s Jack Murphy by four seconds. (More on them in a moment.)
Venoit went on to run an 18:19 at the SCC Championship at East Shore Park. His 17:57 in the Class M race was the fastest time among Wallingford runners at the state class meets.Derrick Arnold, jr., Sheehan
While Ethan Venoit won the Sheehan-Lyman Hall dual meet, junior Derrick Arnold was the top Wallingford runner at the Neubauer Invitational. Arnold placed second in 18:27 ahead of Jack Murphy (3rd, 18:33) and Venoit (4th, 18:38).
Arnold also had the fastest Wallingford time at the SCC Championship (18:00). He fell back a bit in the state meet, crossing in 18:29 in Class M.Jack Murphy, soph., Lyman Hall
LH coach Mike Addorisio can breathe easy. With Jack Murphy and fellow sophomore Aidan Weir, the Trojans have a solid 1-2 combination for two more years.
This fall, Murphy followed up on his second-place finish in the Wallingford dual meet and his third place in the Neuabauer Invitational with an 18:15 at the SCC Championship, finishing one spot ahead of Sheehan’s Ethan Venoit.
Murphy ran an 18:34 at the Wickham Invitational and lowered it to 18:16 in the Class MM meet.Dominic Oliveri, jr., Maloney
Dominic Oliveri was not always Maloney’s top runner this season. In the biggest meets, however, he was.
The junior defended his Meriden city title at Hubbard Park with a time of 18 minutes flat, out-dueling teammate Reynaldo Torres and Wilcox Tech’s Donny You.
Oliveri also had Maloney’s fastest time at the Class L meet at Wickham Park with a 19:46. His best time at Wickham was the 19:17 logged at the CCC Championship.Donny You, sr., Wilcox Tech
As defending champ, Wilcox senior Donny You was the hunted at this year’s Connecticut Technical Conference championship meet at Wickham Park.
The pack could not chase him down. On a cool, drizzly afternoon, You defended his title with a time of 19:48, winning by eight seconds over his closest challenger.GIRLSJackie Izzo, fr.,Southington
One of the biggest cross country stories this fall came in one of the smallest packages.
Don’t let Jackie Izzo’s size fool you. She casts a long shadow. And she’s only a freshman.
Izzo burst on the scene by winning a multi-state freshman race at the Big Red Invitational in Somers, N.Y. and then finishing 11th overall at the Briarwood Invitational in Philadelphia.
By the end of the regular season, Izzo had established a new Southington girls 5K record with the 19:28 she ran in a dual meet at Northwest Catholic.
Izzo went on to finish sixth and earn All-CCC status in her conference championship meet. Her 20:03 that day was the best time ever posted by a Southington girl at Wickham Park and the fastest time posted by any area girl this season at the state’s premier cross country course.
Unfortunately, Izzo was ill the day of the class meets. She started the Class LL race, but dropped out.Kate Kemnitz, sr., Southington
While the freshman Izzo emerged as Southington’s leading runner this fall, the senior Kemnitz was the undisputed team leader at captain and a rock-solid No. 2.
At the Class LL meet, Kemnitz ran a team-best 20:53.
Kemnitz was also All-Conference. She was 15th in the CCC Championship meet, also run at Wickham. Her time that day was 20:55.Emily Longmore, sr., Cheshire
Emily Longmore was seldom the leading lady for the Candy Stripers during her four years in Cheshire, yet she was always a valuable contributor and always ran high in the pack.
In her final Class L meet, Longmore took the spotlight. Slashing 1:06 off the time she’d logged at the Wickham Invitational, Longmore led the Rams by placing 18th in 20:54.
Longmore was also 13th in the SCC Championship with a 21:07 at East Shore Park, where the Rams finished third as a team. Longmore was named All-SCC Second Team.Elisabeth Brown, soph., Sheehan
Following up on her breakthrough freshman season, Lizzie Brown remained the top female runner in Wallingford as a sophomore.
Among her regular-season conquests was a home quad meet that included Cheshire. Brown out-ran everyone that day, including the four Cheshire girls who made All-RJ.
Brown also won the Sheehan-Lyman Hall meet for a second straight year.
Moving on to the postseason, Brown made the All-SCC First Team by finishing sixth in 20:34 at at the SCC Championship at East Shore Park.
She was 13th in Class M with a 20:58 at Wickham.Olivia Ferraro & Meghan Georgescu, fr., Cheshire
These two girls are listed together because you’ll be hearing their names, seemingly in tandem, for three years to come.
This year, as freshmen, Ferraro and Georgescu were consistent scorers on a team that went 8-1 in the regular season and then placed third in the SCC Championship meet. Ferraro ran a 21:16 to finish 15th in the SCC meet and Georgescu was right behind her in 21:22.
Both were named All-SCC Second Team.
In the Class L state meet at Wickham Park, the freshmen lowered the times they’d run earlier in the season at the Wickham Invitational. Ferraro went from 21:53 to 21:09 to post Cheshire’s second-best time that day behind Longmore. Georgescu cut even more time, going from 22:16 to 21:21.Amanda Addesso, sr., Cheshire
This senior leaves a fine legacy. Addesso was a four-time All-SCC runner, with her fifth-place finish in 20:28 at this year’s conference championship meet elevating her back to the First Team.
The team captain also established the initial record on the new course that was unveiled at Cheshire Park this season. Her time of 21:25 is the one the Lady Rams and their opponents will chase starting next season.
At Wickham Park, Addesso ran a 21:17 at the Wickham Invitational and a 21:14 at the Class L meet.Morgan Kicklighter, soph., Maloney
The highlight of Morgan Kicklighter’s sophomore season was defending her Meriden crown at the city championship meet. Kicklighter ran a 21:52 at Hubbard Park that day and led from start to finish.
At Wickham Park, Kicklighter ran a 22:55 during the CCC Championship and lowered it 22:29 a week later at the Class L state meet.Shalyn Noble, soph., Wilcox Tech
Shalyn Noble ran second to Morgan Kicklighter in the Meriden city meet. Those two will be dueling for two more years.
During that time, Noble will also be among the top contenders in the Connecticut Technical Conference. She won the CTC Championship last year as a freshman and was second this year in 23:41.
The CTC meet was run at Wickham Park. Noble returned to Manchester for the Class SS meet and lowered her time to 23:18.