Ponzio Leads SHA to State Title in First Cross Country Season
Kristina Ponzio had a standout season as a first-year member of the Sacred Heart Academy (SHA) cross country team this fall. Kristina, a junior who lives in East Haven, won several races on her way to earning All-Quinnipiac, All-SCC First Team, and All-State honors, while helping SHA claim a state championship along the way.
Kristina had some experience in track, but still wasn’t sure what to expect during her first season of running cross country. However, she sure is happy with the way everything turned out.
“I was nervous going in, especially coming in as a junior, but the team was amazing and welcomed me with open arms from the first day,” says Kristina. “A lot of my best friends were on the team, and I made a lot of new friends. We grew as family. The team is super close, and we hang out on and off track.”
Kristina and her teammates led SHA to the title when the team competed at the Class M State Championship on Nov. 1. Kristina came in fourth place for the race by running a time of 20 minutes and 33 seconds at Wickham Park. Winning a state title was particularly special for SHA considering that the Sharks had to edge out powerhouse Tolland in order to claim the crown.
“Tolland was one of top competitors, and they beat us at an invitational at Wickham before that,” Kristina says. “We only lost to them by a couple seconds so, getting closer to states, we were preparing and telling ourselves to go in with confidence and that we were totally capable of achieving this and, luckily, we did.”
Kristina’s other accomplishments throughout the season included taking first place at the SCC Quinnipiac Division Championship, the CT River Valley Invitational, the Sloper 4,000-Meter Race, and the SHA 5K. She also finished fifth at both the SCC Championship and the Wickham Invitational. The CT River Valley Invitational was one of Kristina’s first competitive races, and it was where she realized that cross country was a good fit for her after recording a personal-record (PR) time.
“I went out and ran my PR and won the meet and I was like, ‘Wow, I think I could have a future in this’,” says Kristina, who also plays basketball and had previously played field hockey. “I really enjoy running and love the competitive nature of it. It was a good choice to switch over to cross country.”
Kristina capped off her inaugural cross country season by competing at the State Open at Wickham Park, where she finished in 26th place with a school-record time of 19:41. That time was almost one minute faster than Kristina’s run at the Class M State Championship.
“The Wickham course is a little tough with the giant hill,” Kristina says. “We did a lot of hill work to prepare for that, and it paid off.”
Pat Redding, the head coach of SHA cross country, saw Kristina work hard to continually lower her times on the trails as the 2021 season unfolded.
“Kristina needed to learn how to run a cross country race—start, race pace, hills, and trails—and she was a quick study,” says Redding. “Her biggest asset was her hard work and dedication to training. Kristina would lead the team at every practice. By doing so, she motivated her teammates to push harder. They built confidence in themselves and each other.”
Redding had coached Kristina with the SHA outdoor track team as a sophomore in the spring. After seeing Kristina’s talents on the track, Redding encouraged her to join the cross country squad.
Kristina excelled in the 800 during her first season of outdoor track. She finished fourth in the event at the SCC Championship and then placed sixth in states to earn a medal with a time of 2:26.96. Kristina also competed in the 1,600 and the 4x400 and 4x800 relays for SHA.
“I’d always enjoyed running, and in field hockey and basketball, we do a lot of running,” Kristina says. “I didn’t have spring sport and thought I’d try track. I found my love of running and luckily had success there.”
Kristina is already thinking about the spring track season and will be looking to improve on her placements at both SCCs and states, in addition to qualifying for the State Open. Kristina feels grateful to Coach Redding, who she says has been “super supportive and helps me through anything.”
However, before she hits the track this spring, Kristina will be focusing on basketball, a sport she picked up while attending St. Rita’s in 5th grade and has been playing ever since. Kristina was excited to join the basketball team when she got to high school and has split time between SHA’s JV and varsity squads.
“Going into high school, I joined our summer league freshman year, so I got to know the team and the coach, who was new and coming in that year, too. It was a good chance to get to know the team and what the team culture would be like,” says Kristina, who plays shooting guard. “My coaches, Jason Kirck and Pat Gallagher, have really helped me learn to have confidence in myself and trust my athletic ability.”
Although there was no State Tournament last winter, the SHA basketball team still had a great season that saw the team win the SCC Division B Tournament. Kristina has high hopes for the Sharks this year.
“I’m excited for the season and what’s to come,” Kristina says. “We have a harder schedule. It’ll be more challenging, but that’ll only help prepare us for states.”
Outside of sports, Kristina is a high honors student who is involved in several clubs at SHA. She’s participated in the Medical Researchers Club, which does presentations on different medical topics; and the Excelsior Club, which reaches out to prospective students.
Kristina also volunteers at the Fantasy of Lights with her father Chris and sister Katie. Kristina’s family is very supportive of her as her mom Renee, her dad, and her sister are “there for me no matter what and always at my meets cheering me on.”
While Kristina has yet to make any definite decisions on college, she is beginning to explore her options. As someone who loves math and science, she is considering studying nurse anesthesiology or pharmacy. Kristina has also been reaching out college coaches in an effort to continue her running career at the next level.
“I really enjoy cross country and track, and I’m hoping to continue through my college years,” says Kristina. “I’m looking to continue the last year and a half with all my friends and enjoy what we have going on in and out of school.”