MANCHESTER >> Zakeer Ahmad of Staples and Drew Thompson of Fairfield Prep, and Morgan McCormick of Wilton and Hayley Collins of Tolland provided cross country fans at Wickham Park with a pair of exciting finishes in their respective boys and girls races at the CIAC State Open meet on Friday.
Running side by side, Thompson surged ahead of Ahmad and took the lead with about 1,000 meters to go in the State Open boys cross country championship. But as they made the final turn into the home stretch, Ahmad used his usual late kick to take the lead with about 100 meters to go and held on to win in 15 minutes, 46 seconds.
Thompson came in right behind Ahmad in 15:47. Sean Parker of Shepaug was third in 16:03. Robbie Cozean of Xavier was fifth in 16:10. Staples won the team title with 61 points, Danbury was second with 77 and Xavier was third with 165.
In the girls race, McCormick surged at the end to win the State Open girls cross country championship in 18:43. Collins was second in 18:45 and Katherine Deloreto of Tolland was third in 18:56. Bridgid Selfors of Mercy was fourth in 19:12. Ridgefield won the team title with 122 points, Tolland was second with 130 and Glastonbury was third with 140. Haddam-Killingworth was the top local team with a 10th place finish with 292 points.
The top six teams plus top 25 individuals advance to the New England Cross Country Championships to be held Saturday at Ponaganset High in North Scituate, Rhode Island. The boys race is 11:30 a.m. and the girls at 12:30 p.m.
“Zakeer has a strong late kick, so with about 1,000 meters I decided to go for the lead and hoped I could hold on,” Thompson said. “But he was just too strong going up the final hill (last 100 meters) and used his late kick to surge ahead and take the lead. I just couldn’t catch him.”
Before the race both runners expected they would be battling each other for the win.
“We were running together the first 4,000 meters until he took the lead with about 1,000 meters to go,” Ahmad said. “I knew we would be battling it out in this race. Going around the final turn I made my move and just ran as hard as I could to close the race.”
Xavier coach Chris Stonier didn’t know what to expect before the race with his No. 2 runner injured. It was learned on Thursday that Owen Curran suffered a stress fracture.
“With Owen hurt we didn’t know where we would finish,” Stonier said. “But everyone ran great including Dillon Selfors (finished 29th) who we moved to No. 2 to take Owen’s spot. We’re very happy with our third place finish.
“Our goal was to finish in the top six so we could qualify for the New England meet.”
In the girls race, Collins had taken a big early lead. But the finish ended up similar to the boys with McCormick and Collins running side by side heading into the final 100 meters.
“She had such a big lead early in the race she just disappeared, I didn’t see her until the last mile,” McCormick said. This is her second year competing in cross country. Last season she was 56th in the State Open. “I finally caught up to her at the bottom of the final hill and it became a 1-on-1 battle. I just ran as hard as I could and got past her at the end.”
Collins was still happy to finish second.
“I’m really excited with my finish,” Collins said. “I usually go out hard and that’s what I did today.”
Bridgid Selfors started out in the back of the pack.
“I got boxed in at the start but I think that became a positive thing,” Selfors said. “It gave me a chance to relax at the start and have a strong finish. I just kept moving up and at the end I was just picking off runners going up the final hill. I’m happy with my time but I’m really excited because I qualified for the New England championships.”