H-K Girls’ Cross Country Captures Class SS State Championship
One week after winning the Shoreline Conference title, the Haddam-Killingworth girls’ cross country team claimed a state crown by finishing in first place at the Class SS State Championship on Oct. 26. The Cougars placed five runners in the top 21 to score 61 points and edge out Immaculate, which totaled 64 points, for their fourth state title in program history and their third in the last five years. H-K had finished second behind Immaculate at last season’s Class SS meet.
“It’s a very pleasant surprise for this group of girls,” Head Coach Matt Diglio said. “We went into this figuring that Immaculate was the favorite and we would be competing with Woodland for second, but once again, we went into this race not focusing on any other team. All we wanted to do was run our race.”
Junior Meara Bodak and senior Julia Callis led the H-K pack by finishing in seventh and eighth place, respectively, on the 5K course at Wickham Park in Manchester. Bodak and Callis posted identical times of 20:49 for the race, passing out Immaculate’s Keelin Bremner in the home stretch to secure the victory for the Cougars. Bremner wound up finishing in ninth place with a time of 20:53.
“I caught and passed her on the final corner. Then Julia went past her going up the hill,” said Bodak of Bremner. “It was a great race for us. Everything seemed to align itself coming down to the finish.”
Just like Bodak, Callis used a late-race surge to help the Cougars walk off the path with the state championship in their grasp.
“The last 100 meters of this race were so exciting,” said Callis. “Meara and I were both able to catch and overtake the Immaculate runner, and that gave us the win. It’s incredible.”
Bodak and Callis earned Class SS All-State honors by virtue of their performances. The duo was followed to the finish senior Lauren D’Amico, who came in 14th place with a time of 21:13; sophomore Ava DiMatteo, who claimed 16th place at 21:21; and freshman Isabel Berardino, who finished 21st place by running a time of 21:56. Senior Ali Twatchman took 31st place in 22:46 for the Cougars, while sophomore Brianna Minervino finished 47th with a time of 23:34.
By virtue of its victory, H-K has qualified to run at the State Open Championship, which takes place at Wickham Park on Friday, Nov. 1 at 2 p.m.
Even though the Cougars returned an experienced group this year, they still had to travel a bumpy road to their tandem of titles. H-K began its campaign with a few athletes sidelined due to injuries and illness. However, when the championships were on the line, Coach Diglio’s club once again demonstrated why it’s a perennial postseason powerhouse.
“I had six of my seven runners back from last year. Then everything seemed to go wrong,” Diglio said. “We held a team meeting late in September to see how we could get it going in the right direction. This win was the end product to lots of hard work and determination by this team.”
One of the turning points in H-K’s season came after the team competed at the Big Red Somers Invitational in New York in late September. The Cougars finished behind Immaculate by more than 100 points at the meet. When H-K returned to local competition, they started heading in a positive direction that ultimately pushed them past that same Immaculate squad at the State Championship.
“We definitely aren’t the same team that we were back then,” Callis said. “Once we ran at that Somers meet, everything started to change. We clicked after that.”
Callis added that she’s eager to run with her teammates one more time at this weekend’s State Open meet.
“I think that the stress is off this team,” she said. “We’ll just go there and compete and see what happens.”
H-K’s last state title came in the 2017 season. The Cougars had previously won state championships in 2015 and 1986.
During the previous week, H-K took first place at the Shoreline Conference Championship for the fourth time in five years. The Cougars’ competitors at that meet were DiMatteo (6th, 20:07), D’Amico (7th, 20:19), Callis (8th, 20:26), Bodak (9th, 20:28), Berardino (12th, 20:45), Minervino (16th, 21:00), and Twatchman (26th, 21:23).