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David Baird ran past four Canton runners late in the Class SS State Championship race on Oct. 25 at Wickham Park to help secure the Cougarsí third Class SS state title in the last four years. (Gary Komoroski/The Source | Buy This Photo )
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Ever since its second-place finishes in 2013 for the Shoreline and state championship races, the one sole focus driving the Haddam-Killingworth boys’ cross country squad’s offseason dedication was getting back to the top. For the Cougars, that desire and determination has now pushed HK into the winner’s circle twice this postseason.
Following the Cougars regaining the Shoreline Conference title for their second league crown in three years, HK also took back the Class SS state championship on Oct. 25 at Wickham Park—giving the program its third SS win in the last four campaigns and seventh state title overall—tallying 56 points to run past Canton (79 points).
“Last year we lost to Old Lyme at states and we were definitely looking to get the title back,” said senior Pat Fitzgibbons, who collected All-State honors. “Going into the race, I kept thinking about how we have trained so hard for this and how I wanted to make All-State for the second year in a row. We knew it would be a tough race, but we were confident in our training and in each other. We had momentum coming in from Shorelines and then winning states was just an amazing feeling. We all just came together and had an awesome day, and it’s a great feeling when a whole team can come together to win something bigger than ourselves.”
Junior Cameron Garrelts, who also earned an All-State Team bid, completed the course second in a time of 16:52, finishing 17 seconds off the pace of state champion Christian Alberico of Coginchaug (16:35). Also in the top six for HK was Fitzgibbons with his sixth place finish at a mark of 17:13.
“As a team, we are very excited to have the state title back,” said Garrelts. “Canton proved to be challenging and had some very good runners. I thought it was a great race and I was pleased with how I placed. I didn’t feel my best because it is a challenging course, but I was still glad with how the race went.”
The Cougars had the lead through the first mile, yet Canton emerged with a pack of four runners at the two-mile mark that went past HK before senior David Baird dashed the Warriors’ championship dreams by going past all four in the final mile.
“In the last 600 meters or so I saw the four runners ahead of me, and I just really wanted it bad. The last 100 meters was pure adrenaline after I past them,” said Baird. “Winning states is the best feeling in the world and just hearing the announcement of HK as state champions was great.”
Rounding out the seven runners on the day for the Cougars was Baird, along with fellow seniors Michael Rutledge, Gavin Manzi, Randin Manzi, and Robert Tischbein. Baird also cracked the top 10 by clocking in at 17:28 for 10th while Rutledge moved to 17th (17:48). The final three HK (finishing with a team time of 1:27:25) slots belonged to Gavin Manzi (21st; 18:04), Randin Manzi (28th; 18:32), and Tischbein (29th; 18:32) as the Cougars’ veterans showed their big-race experience.
“It feels great to win this title. I’m so proud of the boys because they made it a goal to win the state title after coming in second last year and were motivated all season long,” said Head Coach Matt Diglio, who has now piloted the Cougars to four state crowns. “It was a tough race versus a good team in Canton, but the boys dug deep and I couldn’t be happier.”
Diglio added that the boys set their main objective back in the preseason and saw it through right to the finish line.
“They deserve all the credit; they took this as one of their goals,” said Diglio. “They just wanted it, went out there, and did it.”
The Cougars will return to Wickham Park on Friday, Oct. 31 for the State Open at 2:45 p.m. and HK will be sending the same set of its seven runners that participated in the SS championship run. A top six performance will send the Cougars to the New England Championship, which is also at Wickham on Saturday, Nov. 8.
“State Open will be a tough race for us. Going in, we are probably the 10th or 11th best team in the state, but we want to be in the top six,” said Diglio. “The boys are confident and will be in the mix. We just have to give it a shot and everything we have.”
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