BETHEL — Amid the usual chaos at the finish line of the South-West Conference boys cross country championships Wednesday afternoon, one thing became clear as the runners began pouring in: There was an awful lot of Newtown blue-and-gold near the front of the pack, five runners in the top 20, in fact.
It was impressive, no doubt, but was it enough to propel the Nighthawks to their first SWC title since 2012?
It sure was — barely.
The Nighthawks scored 44 points and edged Pomperaug — which also placed its top five in the top 20 — by only 12 points for the title. Immaculate (115 points), New Milford (120) and Brookfield (140) rounded out the top five teams.
“It feels amazing,” said Newtown senior Ryan Escoda. “We worked all season for this, and we finally got it. I knew this was our year. I knew we had the talent. I knew we could win it, and we did.”
New Milford’s Eli Nahom won his second consecutive individual title, traversing the five-kilometer Mark Goodwin Cross Country Course at Bethel High School in 16:22.14. Robert Moore of Pomperaug finished second in 16:47.27, followed by Escoda in third in 16:47.52, New Fairfield’s Anthony Golino in fourth in 16:49.97 and Newtwon’s Nick Jacobs in fifth in 16:54.25.
Also for Newtown, Maxwell Bloomquist finished eighth in 17:08.56; Joel Duval placed 11th in 17:15.27; and Christian Lestik took 17th in 17:22.99.
“It was a total team effort, so I’m really happy,” Newtown coach Carl Strait said. “Even though it’s the top seven in a varsity-only race, it’s all 54 kids who believed and put in all the effort all along.”
It was truly a magical afternoon for the Nighthawks, one where everything fell into place at the perfect time. Consider this: Bloomquist, a sophomore, had never run cross country before this year. His times all season, Strait said, were in the neighborhood of 17:30. That means he trimmed more than 20 seconds off his best time Wednesday.
“That, right there, is the wild card,” Strait said. “That’s the great thing about this. On any given day, who feels good? There are so many outside variables. It’s never a given. You run this race tomorrow, or you run it at 3 o’clock, and it’s completely different. It’s just like rolling the dice.”
Pomperaug, meanwhile, has collected four consecutive SWC runner-up trophies and six in the last nine years. The Panthers last won the conference crown in 2001 — and they came agonizingly close on Wednesday. Following Moore across the finish line were Zachary DiMeglio in 10th in 17:12.94, Sam Holst-Grubbe in 13th in 17:20.58, Trey Generali in 15th in 17:21.44 and Daniel Collette in 16th in 17:21.95.
“The pieces were in place, it was just a matter of how they fell at the end,” Strait said. “I didn’t have a clue until they printed out the results and I looked at them.”
Nahom’s winning time this year was nearly 12 seconds faster than his winning time last year.
“I was a little nervous going in,” Nahom said. “There were a lot of guys I thought would be up there, and they were for the first mile. I kind of took over from there.”
His victory, however, was bittersweet, as New Milford’s run of consecutive conference championships was snapped at three. The Green Wave has won 16 titles in the 23 years since the formation of the SWC, and had won five titles in six years in the early 1980s in the old Western Connecticut Conference. Remarkably, the Wave had finished either first or second for 19 straight years from 1998 to 2016.
“It’s really hard dealing with it,” Nahom said. “We haven’t been out of second place in almost 20 years, so it’s kind of hard to look at it and see this is the team that got fourth. We had our four and five get injured mid-race, so it’s tough.”
Strait has coached the Nighthawks for three seasons, although he led another Newtown High team to an SWC title, guiding the 2009 baseball team to the conference title as the eighth seed. His Nighthawks stunned Notre Dame of Fairfield in the title game at Bethel High’s Hunt Field — just a few feet away from where his cross country team celebrated its victory Wednesday.
“I’m really starting to like this place,” Strait said with a smile.
SWC BOYS CROSS COUNTRY CHAMPIONSHIPS
Mark Goodwin Cross Country Course,
5 kilometers at Bethel High School
Team scores: 1. Newtown 44; 2. Pomperaug 56; 3. Immaculate 115; 4. New Milford 120; 5. Brookfield 140; 6. Weston 142; 7. Barlow 152; 8. New Fairfield 164; 9. Bethel 222; 10. Bunnell 320; 11. Masuk 322; 12. Notre Dame-Fairfield 365; 13. Stratford 380.
Top 25: 1. Eli Nahom, New Milford, 16:22.14; 2. Robert Moore, Pomperaug, 16:47.27; 3. Ryan Escoda, Newtown, 16:47.52; 4. Anthony Golino, New Fairfield, 16:49.97; 5. Nick Jacobs, Newtown, 16:54.25; 6. Connor McNerney, Immaculate, 16:59.59; 7. Jerold Lambert, New Fairfield, 17:08.26; 8. Maxwell Bloomquist, Newtown, 17:08.56; 9. Charles Osborne, New Milford, 17:09.18; 10. Zachary DiMeglio, Pomperaug, 17:12.94; 11. Joel Duval, Newtown, 17:15.27; 12. Harrison Houser, Barlow, 17:16.31; 13. Sam Holst-Grubbe, Pomperaug, 17:20.58; 14. Timothy Lautenbach, Weston, 17:21.09; 15. Trey Generali, Pomperaug, 17:21.44; 16. Daniel Collette, Pomperaug, 17:21.95; 17. Christian Lestik, Newtown, 17:22.99; 18. Garred Farrell, New Milford, 17:25.16; 19. Patrick Cropsey, Immaculate, 17:28.09; 20. Jeremy Saluzzi, Barlow, 17:29.31; 21. Jadon Parris, Brookfield, 17:30.03; 22. Stephen Finck, Brookfield, 17:32.67; 23. Derek Gallo, Brookfield, 17:33.94; 24. Ryan Rupprecht, Weston, 17:34.24; 25. Eric Rosenhein, Pomperaug, 17:37.56.