CROSS COUNTRY 2019: Returning R-J runner of the year leads local pack down a fresh trail

CROSS COUNTRY 2019: Returning R-J runner of the year leads local pack down a fresh trail



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MERIDEN — The 2019 cross country season gets off the startling line on Tuesday and it should be an exciting one in the Record-Journal coverage area.

Brendan Mellitt, last year’s Record-Journal Cross Country Runner of the Year, returns for his senior season at Cheshire, while Sheehan’s Lizzie Brown, still only a junior, is also back to set the pace for the girls.

Maloney returns plenty of talent. Coach Derek Destefano predicts his Lady Spartans will be among the top distaff teams in the area.

The Southington boys are deeper this year and the girls, led by sophomore star Jackie Izzo, have the potential to be one of the best teams in program history this side of the 1984 State Open champion boys team.

Both Cheshire teams are expected to have big seasons. Both Wallingford teams bring back All-Record-Journal runners.

Wilcox Tech will be competitive in the Connecticut Technical Conference, while Platt is struggling again with numbers.

Here’s a deeper look at the area’s seven cross country programs.

Maloney

Coach Destefano is in his fourth year and he’s optimistic about his squads, in particular the girls.

“Our girls team has the talent to be one of the best teams in the area,” Destefano said. “I expect us to improve upon last year and show our opponents that we can compete with the best.”

The Lady Spartans, 6-5 a year ago, will be guided this fall by a trio of senior captains: Annelise Montuori, Charlise Levesque and Haley Kennedy.

Morgan Kicklighter, only a junior, returns as the team’s No. 1 runner. The All-RJ runner is the two-time defending Meriden city champ.

Other notable Maloney girls are seniors Charlise Levesque and Haley Kennedy, junior Kristen McCormack and sophomore and Nancy Nguyen.

Maloney graduated Brenna DiMella, Coralis Soto, Julie Burness and Anne Bekasi.

The boys, coming off of a 7-4 campaign, endured the graduation losses of Simon Santos, Hunter Bernabucci, Zack Weisz, Jack Flores, Isaac Betts and Jeff Dobensky.

All-RJ selection Dominic Oliveri is the senior captain. Like Kicklighter, Oliveri defended his Meriden city title last fall.

Junior Reynaldo Torres is another top returning runner for the Spartans, who will also look for scoring from senior Zack Trowbridge, junior Xavier Zaler, sophomores Jack DePalma, Jack Curry and George Hal, and freshman Taylor Bello.

“Our boys team has a mix of talented, experienced runners and newcomers,” Destefano said. “After losing a large amount of seniors, I am excited to see how far this team can go and look forward to a successful season.”

Platt

The Panthers have struggled with numbers over the years and that doesn’t change this year. Platt has just three runners total heading into 2019: senior Aiden Annino and sophomores Josh Gonzalez and Jaliz Cordero.

“The Platt high school boys and girls cross country teams are continuing to build on young talent,” said third-year coach Samantha Wolfer. “As was the case last season, we are looking to increase numbers and personal improvements within the overall team.”

Southington

The boys went 9-5 a year ago and the girls 10-4. Don’t expect any slack in the Southington pace this season.

Seniors Matt Penna and Lucca Riccio are returning All-CCC and All-RJ runners for the boys. Penna, with a 17:15 at Wickham Park last October, ran the seventh fastest time in Southington history at the Class LL meet.

The offseason has seen improvements in performance and depth.

“The boys team just had their time trial that we’ve been doing for the last five years,” noted coach Dan Dachelet. “The boys ran a minute faster as a top-five group than any other time. The boys team had an amazing summer worth of base mileage and they are in great shape.

“Right now, Matt, Lucca and Ryan Asido are solid in the 1-3 spots, but after that it’s anyone’s guess who’ll be our next four runners,” Dachelet said. “That packs stretches out to the 13 and 14 runners. These guys are really pushing each other in workouts and we’re very excited to see them in meets.  It’s a tough conference and a tough state, but I think this may be the deepest boys team we’ve had in my tenure at Southington.”

Dachelet set up a 2019 schedule with fewer invitational races. In the difficult CCC West, Southington could be a .500 team in dual meets, yet still qualify for the State Open.

“Our goal is just to run smart races at a level that they’re capable,” Dachelet said. “Wins and losses aren’t that important. We need to be consistent with our races. If we win, so be it. I’ll take top times on tough courses any time over that W against a school like Conard, which is gunning for a New England trip.”

The girls will be captained by Lili McKinstry and Meghan Sheline. They feature sophomore Jackie Izzo, who last year as an All-RJ and All-CCC freshman set team records for overall fastest 5K (19:28) and fastest 5K at Wickham Park (20:03).

Juniors Grace Michaud and Diane Pillsbury slot in at No. 2-3. Pillsbury was an All-CCC selection in outdoor track in the mile.

Freshman Emily Moskal should be a contributor by the end of the season.

“Our ladies should be very strong up front with Jackie, Diane and Grace,” Dachelet said. “Jackie and Grace should have a breakout year and could very well be top 30 girls in the state.

“I think as a coach I’ll be in new territory with two girls gunning for winning races each meet or as front-pack runners in invites,” Dachelet added. “We need to have some girls who either haven’t run varsity in the past or are new to the team to step up in that 4 and 5 spot. We’re hoping that they’ll be ready by championship season.”

Cheshire

The Cheshire boys, coached by Pam Gunneson, went 7-2 last year, but did lose Yasin Tarabar, who is now at Yale, and Thomas Longmore, who moved out of town.

That said, the Rams return R-J Runner of the Year Brendan Mellitt, an All-Stater who qualified for last year’s New England Championship, and fellow senior Francis Simpatico, who was Cheshire’s No. 2 runner last year and earned All-SCC Second Team and All-RJ status.

Charlie Pettit, a returning top-five runner, and Parker Arai are senior captains along with Mellitt and Simpatico. 

Senior Owen Fiore and sophomore Robert DiNatalie are back. Joining the fold is junior Ryan Farrell, a standout 800- and 1000-meter runner in track. There’s also promising freshman Colin Grevelding.

“We are looking to have another strong season with even higher finishes in the SCC and Class L meet,” Gunneson said. “Amity and Shelton will be strong competitors for the Housatonic [Division] championship as well as Cheshire. The team has many varsity runners return and is striving to run as a team at the Open.”

On the girls side, Rob Schaefer enters his 32nd year as coach. With the graduation of Amanda Addesso (Gettysburg), Emmy Longmore (Fordham) and Rosie Marquez (Western Connecticut), the Lady Rams are relatively young this season.

Young, yet talented: They bring back sophomores Meghan Georgescu and Olivia Ferraro, who were All-SCC Second Team and All-RJ as freshmen.

Senior captains are Kristina Benga, Audrey Kiesling and Juliana Petronio. Juniors Cate Bedard and Brooke Daddio return to the squad, while freshman Alex Palladino strides into the mix.

“We are a young team this year,” said Schaefer, who holds a career record of 278-32 after last season’s 8-1 campaign that culminated with a third-place finish in the SCC and a sixth-place showing in Class LL. “Our top runners are underclassmen; three of the top seven runners are first-year varsity runners. We are strong, but need to gain experience.

“CHS girls cross country has a proud history,” Schaefer added. “We, though, never bank on what we have done. We look forward only.”

Lyman Hall

Mike Addorisio is back for another year at the helm. Last fall, his boys went 6-4 and his girls 5-7.

“This is my umpteenth year at LH and I am still having fun,” Addorisio said. “The kids that run cross country are a great group with a fantastic outlook and are a joy to work with.”

Lyman Hall’s losses include the two sets of triplets — the Horobins (Andrew, Luke and Zach) and the Lipkas (Eric, Kailey and Lindsey). Rachael Ruggiero was also a loss for the girls squad.

The Trojans, though, bring back plenty, starting with junior Jack Murphy, All-RJ a year ago as a sophomore, and the Weir siblings, junior Aidan and sophomore Olivia.

Tucker Fredricksen is captain for the boys team, which includes fellow seniors Ethan Bau and Conner Caines. The girls will be paced by captain Emily Ottens, the lone senior on their roster.

The boys team has depth with junior Aouadi Yousef and sophomore Ayden Durant. Chance DeCresenzo and Peyton Durant are aboard as freshmen. 

Mary Cozza, Anna Skotnicki, Emma Tommel and Lyanne Trieu are the ninth-grade rookies for the girls, who also field juniors Caitlyn Hughes and Savannah Mangini, and sophomore Madison Jackson. 

Mangini had hip surgery in June and will be team manager until she recovers.

“We have six freshmen and I expect some, if not all, to contribute this year, as we have lost a number of good athletes,” Addorisio said. “All I ask is that the team work hard and keep a positive outlook.”

Sheehan

Frank Mohr is in his second year as head coach of Sheehan XC. The boys were 6-5 and the girls 7-4 in his initial campaign.

The Titans graduated consistent scorers Evan Wilkinson, Sydney Carim and Julia Mansfield, but bring back All-RJ runners Lizzie Brown, Ethan Venoit and Derrick Arnold.

Brown, a junior, and senior Allyssa Cassella will captain the girls team. Venoit and Arnold will lead the boys team with fellow senior Tyler Carmen.

The boys have plenty of experience. Chris Barberino, Michael Barberino and Jacob Bielesz are back for their senior seasons. The junior class is deep with Kennedy Clave, Aaron Gamble, Nathan Hall, John Womelsdorf and Mike Womelsdorf.

Sophomores Evan Caines, Jose Camargo and Stefan Pellerin look to work up the ladder. Freshmen Allen Tran and Aaron Mansfield make their varsity debut.

The girls squad is a small, tight band: junior Amelia Mansfield, sophomores Arianna Amodio and Emma Reilly, and freshman Hitika Patel.

“All are working hard in preparation for the season as they continue to be competitive in practice,” Mohr said. “Lizzie Brown is the hardest-working athlete I have ever coached in any sport at any level.”

Wilcox Tech

Dave Cronin’s boys crew finished 6-1 last year and won the Charter Oak Division of the CTC.

The Tribe did, however, graduate All-RJ runner Donny You as well as Israel Arce, Derek Strillacci, Bryce McClendon and Luis Hernandez.

Senior captain Brandon Armstrong takes over as the No. 1 runner. Sophomore Joshua Santiago is expected to slot in at No. 2.

Senior James Dobson, junior Victor Perez and sophomores Jeshuah Medina and Carlos Cintron are also in the mix.

“We have a lot of kids who are new to the sport and are willing to put in the work to get better,” Cronin said.

The girls squad was 3-4 last year in Rob Janiga’s third season as head coach. He brings back juniors Shalyn Noble and Nyasia Gomes. Noble was All-RJ last season.

The Indians also feature a crop of promising newcomers, starting with junior Julaisa Santiago and sophomores Xochilt Rangel and Choralei Gordon. The incoming freshmen are Madison Milano, Jaylin Aguilar, Alanny Perez and Ava Quinn.

“With the addition of some promising new runners, we hope to be more competitive this year,” Janiga said.


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