Sports Person of the Week
Jennings Carves His Path on the Track and the Trails
Matt Jennings has collected many medals while helping H-K’s boys’ cross country and track programs establish themselves as a dominant force in the Shoreline Conference. (Photo courtesy of Matt Jennings )
Matt Jennings is as good as it gets, both on and off the track, as a student-athlete at Haddam-Killingworth High School. Matt, who recently finished his junior year, has excelled as a distance runner for H-K’s boys’ cross country, indoor track, and outdoor track teams throughout the past several seasons. Matt put together an excellent indoor season with the Cougars this winter and was poised to make another run at nationals had the spring campaign taken place.
Matt has been a competitive runner since he was in 5th grade. Matt honed his skills by running cross country in middle school and was ready to make an impact right away when he started high school.
“I’ve been running local road races for as long as I can remember,” says Matt. “But I first began competitively running in 5th grade on the middle school cross country team. It seemed the logical progression for my running.”
Matt showcased why he’s one of Connecticut’s top runners during the 2019-’20 indoor track season. Matt took first place in the 1,000 (2:32.94), the 1,600 (4:38.14), and the 3,200 (10:23.40) at the Shoreline Conference Championship for the second year in a row, leading the Cougars to their second-straight conference title. He went on to win the 1,000 at the Class S State Championship (2:32.04), came in second place at the State Open (2:29.56), and placed third at the New England Championship (2:28.80), ultimately qualifying for the New Balance Nationals in the event.
Matt also saw tremendous success as a member of H-K’s 1,600 sprint medley relay team this year. The Cougars’ quartet of Jennings, junior Aidan Coleman, senior Seth Regan, and senior Dmytri Mallon claimed first place at the Class S State Championship (3:45.03) and then finished in first at the State Open (3:37.15), setting a school record at the latter meet.
Matt says that he appreciates the efforts of all the great people he’s had the honor of working with during his time at H-K.
“I really value the community of runners that I’ve met over the years,” Matt says. “The vast majority of athletes I’ve met have been very down to earth, outgoing, and supportive of each other. I think that helps us all grow and become better runners and people.”
Matt’s career on the cross country course has featured its fair share of highlights, as well. This past fall, Matt paced his way to a first-place finish at the Shoreline Conference Championship with a time of 15:49, helping H-K earn top honors at the meet for the sixth-consecutive season.
Matt says that the secret to his success stems from the hard work he puts in behind the scenes. Matt feels that focusing on the little details helps him continually improve his times on both the track and the trails.
“As it’s been said, ‘The devil is in the details.’ We focus a lot on the small aspects of training that help improve and cement the progress that we make in other areas like hard track workouts and tempo runs,” Matt says. “This includes measures like resistance, band work, ladder and hurdle drills, and dynamic cool-downs. All in all, I put a lot of trust into [cross country Head Coach Matt Diglio], and I know that I see success when I follow his training plan.”
Matt’s track coach Richard Dupuis has nothing but praise for H-K’s top distance runner. Dupuis says that Matt was gearing up to achieve big things during the spring of 2020.
“Not only did Matt have a great season for indoor track, he also kept up his training in case spring track opened up,” says Dupuis. “It was truly disappointing for him, as well as the other athletes as, based on their winter performances, we were all looking for a great spring.”
Matt’s expectations for the outdoor season were just as high as that of Coach Dupuis. Last spring, Matt helped the Cougars take first place at Shorelines, after which he finished first for the 1,600 at the Class M State Championship (4:22.59) and came in second at the New England Championship (4:19.13).
“This outdoor season, I was really excited to return to the New England Championships to contend for the title in the 1,600 after placing runner-up my sophomore year,” says Matt. “I was also looking forward to competing at the outdoor National Championships after indoor nationals was canceled this winter. As a team, I was excited to help us continue our legacy and win our sixth-consecutive Shoreline Conference Championship in cross country, indoor track, and outdoor track.”
Off the track, Matt is a standout student who is involved in several extracurricular activities at Haddam-Killingworth. Matt was elected as a class officer for the Class of 2021, holds positions in the Student Council and Current Events Clubs, and is also a member of the Spanish Honor Society and Human Relations Club. Matt takes a lot of pride in working hard to be a vocal leader in his school community.
“After the tragic Parkland shooting my freshman year, I helped organize my school’s walkout and was placed on the RSD No. 17 Security Committee as a student representative. Last year, I was selected as one of my school’s ambassadors to the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Seminar, where I had the opportunity to meet and learn from the newest generation of leaders across the state,” Matt says. “This year, I also had the honor of being selected at the student representative to the RSD No. 17 Board of Education. Most recently, I was awarded with the George Eastman Young Leaders Award from the University of Rochester.”