Branford coach Kevin Connell has a runner from his boys team and his entire girls team competing in the State Open Friday (2 p.m.) at Wickham Park in Manchester.
But he is taking markedly different approaches in preparing them for the big meet.
Branford’s Luke Arsenault qualified for the State Open by finishing 11th with a time of 17 minutes, 23 seconds in the Class MM championship meet. It was just his third race of the year coming off a foot injury and Connell said he’s been trying to keep him fresh for the Open.
“If you’re tired, you’re not going to do much,” Connell said.
The girls team won its first Class MM state championship and wants to keep the momentum going from the motivational high of a title.
“There’s still a buzz about it,” Connell said. “It’s a nice thing, the kids that have graduated that have sent me an email or a text. I always try to incorporate them. They’re a part of it, even though they’re not here.”
The Hornets will participate in just their second State Open in school history. Connell said last year the team got a good feel for what the meet is all about.
“They found out right from the start it was fast,” he said. “They know that it’s going to be a little bit quicker. They’re going to have to get out and everybody’s gunning for those top six teams.”
That’s because the top six move on to the New England Invitational. Branford is hoping to be one of those teams, but Connell said his girls have to dig deep and be faster.
“I asked them, ‘Can you be that little bit faster, can you all cut your time a little bit?’” he said. “They were all in agreement that, yeah, they could do that.”
Competing against top Southern Connecticut Conference talent all season, in addition to the Class MM meet, has given the Hornets confidence for Friday’s race.
“They’ve competed against good teams like Cheshire and Mercy,” Connell said. “We’ve gone to states; we went to Ocean State in Rhode Island; Windham; we’ve run against good teams.”
And Arsenault’s confident, too, according to Connell. The junior hurt his ankle during preseason workouts, but despite limited time, Arsenault looked impressive in the SCC (10th) and Class MM meets. Connell said the main focus now is just getting his lone boys qualifier to the starting line. He said Arsenault’s body is getting back to where it needs to be, and that he needs to remain confident in his ability on the course.
“That’s the key thing,” Connell said. “Make sure he’s rested and 100 percent ready to compete. With him, it’s probably more mental and getting himself ready to compete that way.”