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Both HK cross country squads captured their respective Class SS state crowns on Oct. 31 at Wickham Park, marking the boys’ second straight and girls’ first since 1986. (Photo courtesy of Sean Walsh )
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What’s been a memorable season for the Haddam-Killingworth cross country program became even more unforgettable at the state championship level last week. After both squads finished their regular seasons undefeated and then claimed Shoreline Conference championships two weeks ago, HK captured a tandem of Class SS state crowns on Oct. 31 at Wickham Park.
The boys tallied 31 points to easily breeze past runner-up Canton (147) for their second-consecutive state title and eighth overall. For the girls’ team, the 2014 runner-up claimed its first state championship since 1986 by edging reigning title-holder Coginchaug, 65-68, for the top slot.
“It felt really great to get the win today. Personally, I think my time was pretty good today, but I feel like I can go a bit faster [at the State Open],” said senior Cameron Garrelts, who raced to first place in boys’ competition. “I thought the team did very well today. The sophomores stepped up again today—just as they did at Shorelines—and ran an amazing race for their first time running at states. They were all very excited to be a part of the state championship experience and I think they are also looking forward to what they can do at the State Open.”
Garrelts followed up his victory at the Shoreline meet by earning his first solo state crown as he crossed the finish line in a time of 16:25, besting Terryville’s Connor Levins, who ran 16:50. Completing the top-10 finishes for the boys were sophomores Andrew Meredith (3rd, 16:56), Daniel Schumann (5th, 17:10), and Jonah Spector (8th, 17:31).
Senior Maddie Brandon led the girls’ pack by coming in fifth with a mark of 19:46. Sophomore Kelsey D’Amico (6th, 20:02) and senior Mary Coletti (10th, 20:22) joined Brandon in the top 10. Coginchaug’s Samantha Drop won the race in 18:58.
“The first girls’ team title since 1986 and to win both the girls’ and the boys’ titles on the same day is really nice. Today’s race showed why all seven runners matter. I had a pretty rough day and so did a couple of the other girls, but I’m really proud of how the team raced as hard as it could,” said Brandon, who had previously prevailed at Shorelines for the third-straight season. “This was one of the goals we set as a team from the first day of practice, so we are really happy that we were able to win today. To also be able to do it despite the challenges we faced, I couldn’t be more proud.”
Rounding out the boys’ performances were sophomores Conor McCabe (14th, 18:06) and Michael Callis (18th, 18:10), plus junior Doug Brown (21st. 18:12), The Cougars’ total team time was 1 hour, 26 minutes, and 8 seconds, which was also the best among the field.
“Six of our top seven were seniors last year, but we knew we weren’t empty, because we had a group of sophomores that were extremely talented last year [as freshmen]. We didn’t know how they’d adjust to varsity, but they haven’t been affected by any outside pressures,” said Head Coach Matt Diglio. “They all just go out, race as hard as they can, and it’s a credit to boys that young that they can perform with that type of mentality despite being a favored team in a big race. We knew going into this that if we ran our race, it wouldn’t be close. Except for Cameron, this was the first states meet for them, but they ran solid times. These boys just continue the streak and tradition here.”
Capping off the girls’ route, sophomore Lexie Bouthillier finished 12th (20:30) and she was joined by senior Erica Allen (32nd, 21:53), junior Elizabeth Early (33rd. 22:09), and senior Annelise Walsh (41st, 22:44). As a group, HK collectively clocked in at 1:42.33.
“It was an exciting day for us, but it came with a wide range of emotions. We knew it would be tight with Coginchaug, but we had some things go wrong. Annelise got sick in the middle of the race, plus Maddie and Mary had some health issues,” Diglio said. “It was all nerve-racking and you couldn’t predict it, yet they all pulled through, and I’m happy and proud of them.”
Diglio, who’s in his 11th year coaching HK cross country, added that the girls’ program has come a long way with its numbers, while ascending from the Shoreline cellar to the state’s glass ceiling.
“Ten years ago, we had maybe five-seven runners and a team that was always at the bottom of the conference, but this senior class helped change the mentality,” said Diglio. “In their first year as freshmen, they came in third at Shorelines, plus they then recruited and really turned it around. Their work ethic and expectations evolved and so they deserve a lot of credit in turning things around with lofty goals.”
The Cougars are not resting their feet just yet in their landmark campaign as the State Open next awaits them on Friday, Nov. 6 at Wickham with the girls running at 2 p.m. and the boys starting at 2:45. Regardless of the results at that event, Coach Diglio doesn’t hesitate in sating that this is easily the best year for the cross country program at Haddam-Killingworth.
“We will enjoy this one, but the girls are looking at a top-10 finish for State Open and, if they run well, they have a shot at New Englands [by finishing in the top 6]. If we bounce back and recover, then we have a shot. For the boys, finishing top 10 as a group would be icing on the cake,” said Diglio. “This is the best year for this program—top to bottom. We’ve never had both teams win state titles in the same year, but it is the best season for everyone, including the JV and freshmen squads. They are all a great group of talented, nice, and hard-working kids.”
From the Sidelines
For All-State Team honors, Cameron Garrelts, Andrew Meredith, and Daniel Schumann earned that accolade on the boys’ side, while Maddie Brandon, Kelsey D’Amico, and Mary Coletti did so for the girls.
In 2014, the HK boys won the Class SS state title by beating out runner-up Canton. Prior to that, the team was runner-up to league rival Old Lyme in 2013.
The boys’ previous state crowns came in Class S in 1980, 1981, and 1982; along with top slots for SS in 2007, 2011, and 2012.
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