With amount of postseason meets from conference, class, state, New England and potentially nationals for some, the cross country season needs an extra week to begin. Fortunately for fans across the state, that means the first races of the season are set to go on Friday.
According to the CIAC, once the New England meet is arranged — this year it’s November 9 — the state works back and counts participation weeks from there.
5 storylines to watch
Will Xavier be dethroned?
The Falcons have captured the last two State Open titles, last season in dominating fashion as four runners placed in the top 14. But the 2019 edition will be different as three seniors — Peter Schulten, Dillon Selfors and Will Curran — graduated.
Two freshmen who filled out the lineup last season — Noah San Vicente and Eamon Burke — will be counted on this fall if the Falcons hope to defend their titles.
Xavier has won 13 State Open titles all-time.
Can the Eagles deliver?
Tolland appears to be in prime position to strike with a number of quality returners and a consistently performing program. The Eagles strolled to the CCC and Class M titles last year and took third at the State Open.
The Eagles received eight of 10 first-placed votes to claim the No. 1 spot in the MySportsResults/SoundRunner state coaches poll. With their top four runners from last year — Jackson Cayward, Alec Sauter, Nathan Polangeli and Jacob Gerow — back in the lineup, Tolland is in position to claim its first State Open since 2010.
Graduation claimed many of the top runners in the state last season. State Open champion Eli Nahom (University of Tennessee) is gone, as are 11 of the top 15 finishers from last year’s race. Xavier was hit hardest of the top teams, while the SWC, SCC and FCIAC will all have new individual champions.
Who will be fastest?
Xavier senior Robbie Cozean is coming off a spectacular outdoor season that resulted in a national championship in the 5K. He’ll have company in the front of the pack by two outstanding sophomores, though.
Conard’s Gavin Sherry won the CCC race last year and took second at both the Class LL and State Open. Manchester’s Aidan Puffer has set several world records at different age groups and had his first taste of varsity action last year. Fairfield Prep’s Azaan Dawson and Cheshire’s Brendan Mellitt will also be in the mix.
Will a new squad rule FCIAC?
Staples and Danbury have had a stranglehold on the league for the past three decades, combining to win 19 of the past 20 conference titles. The only team to break that pattern — Ridgefield in 2013 — will hope to once again upset the Hatters and Wreckers. The Tigers return every single runner from last year’s fourth-place finish.
Ridgefield finished seventh at the State Open as Charles Coffin, Charles Namiot, Chris Lauretani and Ethan MacKenzie lead a more experienced group this year.
10 meets to watch
Blue Dragon Invitational, Sept. 6: The kickoff to the season is set for Saturday in Middletown at Veterans Memorial Park.
Haddad Windham Invitational, Sept. 7: Opening weekend continues the following day as the 41st Windham Invite takes place; will feature the first look at state favorite Tolland.
Wilton Invitational, Sept. 14: Fairfield Prep’s Azaan Dawson took second in the event a year ago and is the top returner. Danbury will also send runners to the event.
Stratton Brook Invitational, Sept 14: Many squads will be at Wilton and Simsbury the same day; the Wreckers will be the top team making the trip upstate.
Danbury, Stamford, Trinity Catholic at Staples, Sept. 17: The two top dogs in the FCIAC meet in an early-season matchup in Westport. The Wreckers enter the season No. 3 in the state while the Hatters are No. 6.
CT River Valley Invitational, Sept. 21: Most of the top SCC teams will race at Cromwell late in the month. This includes Daniel Hand, which finished eighth in the league last year but returns its entire lineup.
Hand, Fairfield Prep, Xavier at Law, Sept. 25: The Jesuits hope the SCC race opens up with Xavier’s losses. This race will be a good test for both.
Bowdoin Park Classic, Sept. 28: A chance for Staples to compete against several of the top teams from across New England. The Wreckers finished third in the event last year.
Hall at Conard, Oct. 7: The battle for West Hartford turned into a battle at the state level last year as Miller Anderson and Gavin Sherry traded wins at the highest level. With Anderson — and several senior teammates — gone, the Warriors must rebuild.
Wickham Park Invitational, Oct. 12: The ultimate dress rehearsal for the postseason. The home of Connecticut cross country will have plenty of footprints between this meet and the New England championships, which will also be held here.