MERIDEN — Derek Destefano asked his runners to aim high when he took over the Maloney cross country program four years ago.
His Spartans responded.
Destefano mentioned running in postseason regional and national meets to his current seniors when they were underclassmen. That group approached Destefano before the start of the 2019 season about making a trip.
With the backing of school administration and parents, the Spartans were able to go. This past weekend, 10 Maloney runners took the trip to Poughkeepsie, N.Y., to compete in the Nike Cross Country Northeast Regionals at Bowdoin Park at nearby Wappinger Falls.
“I believe it was the first time a Meriden school has taken part in the Nike regional event,” Destefano said. “It turned out to be pretty awesome. It was a great trip for them.”
The Spartans were driven by parents, who served as chaperones.
The athletes arrived on Friday, went to a pasta dinner that night where Olympic runner Colleen Quigley was guest speaker, then competed on Saturday morning in the meet’s Open Division.
“It was a good experience,” Destefano said. “It turned out to be pretty awesome. We were able to race against the best teams and the best runners in the Northeast. It was also a very difficult course.”
The Maloney boys who competed were Reynaldo Torres, Dominic Oliveri, Xavier Zaler, Evan Avery, Zack Trowbridge and Jack Curry. Savannah Vasquez, Haley Kennedy, Cadence Browne and Annelise Montouri were the Maloney girls in action.
Torres was the top Spartan runner. He was 64th in the Open Division with a time of 18:12.
“My seniors have been asking about this race since I brought it up three or four years ago,” Destafano said. “I thought it would be a fun and unique experience. My seniors wanted me to make this happen. It took a lot of effort and contributions from (Maloney athletic director) Bob McKee and the school’s administration. Also, the parents allowed us to do this.
“I also have motivated and dedicated athletes,” the coach added. “Our last race was a month ago and, since then, they have stayed in shape for this race.”
The Nike regional certainly wasn’t about wins or losses for Maloney. It was about the experience.
“They were amongst great runners,” Destefano said. “They got to compete on a great course with a lot of schools we don’t ever see. They said it was the hardest course they have ever seen.
“Every part of the trip was amazing for them,” Destefano added. “It was educational. They will use this experience for the rest of their time. For us to do this, it’s another way to grow our team and distance running in our local area.”
Destefano, a standout runner in his days at Platt, is in his fourth year coaching cross country at Maloney. The year he took over on the East Side, the cross country program had just seven boys and one girl.
“This group helped us grow,” Destefano said. “It’s bittersweet to see them go. In four short years we have made distance runners. We’ve had contenders and athletes that have broken records.
“We continue to be on the upper trend. We are becoming more and more competitive, and when newcomers come in they see how hard the kids work and they want to work hard for the team. We have a good things going and we want to keep it going.”