BEST OF THE BUNCH: In this race, the reigning cross country champ has company

BEST OF THE BUNCH: In this race, the reigning cross country champ has company

reporter photo

MERIDEN — Brendan Mellitt was all by himself in running away with the 2018-19 Record-Journal Cross Country Runner of the Year award.

Literally: He was the lone area harrier to reach the 2018 State Open.

A year later, the Cheshire senior had company. A lot of company. So much so that the time has come to name R-J runners of the year in both boys and girls cross country.

Who are the finalists for the inaugural girls award? You’ve got to tune back in tomorrow for that.

For now, here are the boys crowding Mellitt at the “Best of the Bunch” starting line, looking to take down the reigning R-J champ.

They’ll have to get after it pretty hard. Mellitt again set the top area pace in the fall of 2019, living in the 16-minute range all season, and he wound up riding it all the way to the New England Championships.

Mellitt opened with a fifth-place 16:08 at the Windham Invitational. He returned home and set a new Cheshire Park record with a 16:32 and lowered it two weeks later to 16:16.

Tuning up for the postseason, Mellitt placed third in the seeded race at the Wickham Invitational in 16:29.

Sweet 16, indeed, and it continued right through the postseason:

■SCC Championships, second place, 16:38;■Class L, 4th, 16:26;■State Open, 17th, 16:36;■New England, 54th, 16:44.

Each time was an area-best. Shortly after, Mellitt signed with Bucknell University.

One of Meliltt’s main challengers for Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year is also heading to a Division I college program, and that’s Matthew Penna of Southington, who’s going to Iona.

Penna led the entire Southington boys team to the State Open. It was the first time the Blue Knights made it as a full squad since 2015.

Penna was the only other runner to join Mellitt below the 17-minute mark at Wickham Park. He did it in three consecutive meets:

■Central Connecticut Conference, 16:41;■Class LL, 16:57;■State Open, 16:58.

The 16:41 placed Penna eighth in the hyper-competitive CCC West Division and was the third-fastest time ever posted by a Southington runner at Wickham Park. Penna placed 26th in both the Class LL meet and the State Open.

Our third finalist for Boys Cross Country of the Year? The city champion of Meriden, Maloney junior Reynaldo Torres.

After a solid sophomore season, Torres broke out in the fall of 2019. He got rolling by winning the Neubauer Invitational at Sheehan in 17:08 and followed that by taking the Meriden City Championship at Hubbard Park in 17:21.

That set up Torres for the postseason meets. He was sixth in the CCC South in 17:37 and returned to Wickham Park to place 15th in Class L in 17:18.

That 17:18 was the fifth fastest area time behind Mellitt and his Cheshire teammate Ryan Farrell, and Penna and his Southington teammate Lucca Riccio.

It was, unfortunately, one second off the State Open-qualifying mark of 17:17.

Undaunted, Torres kept training and eventually led his Maloney teammates to Bowdoin Park in Wappinger Falls, N.Y. to compete in the Open Division of the Nike Cross Country Northeast Regional. 

There, Torres ran an 18:12 and set himself up for an excellent indoor track season.

He and Cheshire’s Farrell will be the leading distance men to watch heading into the fall of 2020.

The Record-Journal Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year will be announced on Thursday, June 18 during the airing of the “Best of the Bunch” awards video on Facebook at 6:30 p.m. The video will also be available on after that initial airing. Finalists in the various awards categories will be unveiled now through June 18. Up next: Girls Cross Country

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