Cross Country: Team effort, not stars, made Xavier’s XC team among nation’s best

Xavier’s cross country team at the Nike Cross Country National championship meet in Portland, Oregon on Dec. 2, 2017. (Photo via Xavier Athletics on Twitter)

 
MIDDLETOWN — In so many ways, Xavier High’s cross-country team has been to the mountaintop.
 
Often we read or hear about individuals who reach the pinnacle of a sport. A swimmer rises to All-American level and goes on to the Olympics, a high school football player reaches the NFL or a George Springer of New  Britain becomes the MVP of the World Series.
 
Xavier’s cross-country team has no such star. It’s not likely that any of the Falcons will ever dash across the front pages as an Olympic distance champion.
 
No, this is the essence of what a team should be, a group of tightly-knit friends, a group of very good runners, who banded together and took the Falcons to levels never before achieved in Connecticut high school cross-country history.
 
This band of brothers stumbled in the Class LL meet. Literally stumbled, as a runner fell and because of that, the team was edged by Staples of Westport for the LL crown. The Falcons never stumbled again.
 
Xavier won the State Open.
 
Xavier won the New England championship.
 
Xavier won the Nike Northeast regional championship.
 
No Connecticut cross-country team had ever done that.
 
Then the Falcons flew over the real mountaintops of the Rockies and ran against the best teams in the United States in the Nike National Race in Oregon and finished a stunning 18th. Count the high schools with cross-country teams. There are tens of thousands.
 
Eighteenth.
 
The mountaintop.
 
“It was an amazing experience,” said coach Chris Stonier. “The course was beautiful; it was a golf course in eastern Portland, Ore. It was also nerve-wracking for us. We tried to follow our routine as best we could. The race was televised, so we worked hard on not being distracted. They told us we figured to be 22nd, which was last of the teams, but we outdid predictions and finished 18th.”
 
Not only did 22 teams participate, some 40 individuals from around the nation ran in the race, which was won by Louden Valley High School of Virginia.
 
Junior Peter Schulten finished first for Xavier, taking the 93rd spot and fellow junior Dillon Selfors was right behind at 105th. As is their wont, the Falcons third place finisher senior Owen Curran was right there with his buddies at 109 and  brother Will, a junior, was 119th.
 
The top four runners finished within 10 seconds of each other.

So this is cool. @Xavier_XC_TF has been introduced at Nike Cross Nationals. All that’s left now? Some racing in the National Championship. pic.twitter.com/7rIVgImyie

— Xavier Athletics (@athleticsXHS) December 2, 2017

The fifth place finisher — only the top five score — for Xavier was Robbie Cozean, who turned in a time of 16:55, just 22 seconds behind Will Curran. Trevor Christie was one second behind Cozean and Owen Lally was 17 seconds behind Christie. Both are seniors. Four of the top seven runners return,
 
“The whole thing was insane [teen-age translation: really good],” said Schulten. “We were greeted by people holding Nike signs and each team had a van with an assigned driver who brought us to the hotel [Embassy Suites] and there was huge banner there welcoming us.”
 
Schulten said that while he was nervous going into the race, he also felt good.
 
“I felt we deserved to be there,” he said. “We all prepared for the event.”
 
The line in commercials that says getting there is half the fun applies here.
 
“I had never flown over the Rocky Mountains,” said Schulten. “When we flew over them, there were no clouds and there were these great mountains, nothing like we see in Connecticut. It was like a vacation.”
 
For Selfors, running is a family thing.
 
“My sister [Bridgid, former Mercy star] and I starting running at the same  time,” he said. ” She was in the eighth grade and I was in sixth.”
 
Selfors met two of his future teammates at Xavier — Owen and Will Curran — while in middle school in Old Saybrook.
 
“We ran together and we also ran against Robbie Cozean,” said Selfors. “The we all went to Xavier and we ran together, we sat together at lunch and became really close friends.”
 
For Will Curran much of what happened bordered on the surreal.
 
“I expected we’d move on to the New Englands, but I didn’t expect we’d win,” he said. “But after that and the regional, everything became super exciting. I never really thought about all of what might happen, but the plane ride seemed like a dream. I mean, I’d never flown over the Rockies.
 
“In the race, I wasn’t really nervous, I tried to think about it as the regional meet and in the race most of my teammates were around me so I ran like I usually do. I just am so happy for the whole team. It was as good as it gets.”
 
Maybe Will Curran summed up the experience the best.
 
“It feels like this was the perfect season,” he said. “No one was injured, we were all extremely focused, yet we still had fun and we are best friends. We accomplished all we did together and it’s a great feeling.”
 
Yet the running goes on. Each will run indoor track and outdoor track and each runs just about every day.
 
“Running is part of my day, it’s a routine,” said Schulten. “If I didn’t do it, I would feel like I’m missing something. It’s like brushing my teeth in the morning.”