MADISON >> The Guilford girls and Xavier boys cross country teams are looking to overcome possible windy conditions, a fast course and the pressure to continue their respective dynasties in the Southern Connecticut Conference championship meet Thursday at Hammonasset State Park in Madison with the girls race beginning at 1:40 p.m., and the boys at 3 p.m.
The Indians are seeking their fourth straight conference crown and the Falcons their third. Xavier coach Chris Stonier said due to the lack of hills, the key to winning at Hammonasset is all about speed. And his Falcons are ready to run.
“I’ve always trained my runners to be fast, not only strong,” Stonier said. “I think over the past two years that’s why we’ve won that meet.”
Meanwhile, Guilford coach Jim Ford said the conditions could be a major factor.
“The wind can often be tricky to deal with,” he said.
The pressure to keep winning can also be tough to handle, according to Stonier. He said Xavier runners are well-versed in the tradition of the program, which has captured nine SCC titles.
“We’re expected to win every meet,” he said. “The kids realize that, the parents, too, but, for others it’s hard to grasp if they’re not part of the program.”
It’s the same story at Guilford, where the Indians have won 13 conference crowns. However, Ford said that should be the only pressure his runners feel this season. With contenders like Mercy and 2012 All Area runner Kaleigh Roberts, Cheshire and Amity, Ford believes it’s anybody’s race this year.
“We’re not the favorite this year,” he said. “From a favorite stand point, that’s not where the pressure is.”
Although not a favorite, Guilford is not a pushover, thanks to Olivia Schultes, Kirsten Morro and Evelyn Ferrall.
“Hopefully we can catch a few breaks and we’ll be in there towards the end,” Ford said.
And Xavier is depending on Zach Williams, Jack O’Hara, Dan Hergott and a secret workout that Stonier has put his team through for the past three years, three days prior to the championship meet.
“It leaves the kids feeling refreshed and confident when they get to the starting line,” he said. “I don’t want to say what that workout is.”
However, despite the pre-race planning, the course and the weather, it could just come down to luck, according to Ford.
“You like to think it’s by design,” Ford said. “But a lot of time it’s just fate.”
SCC cross country championship meet
When: Today,girls at 1:40 p.m.; boys at 3 p.m.
Where: Hammonasset State Park, Madison
Defending champions: Xavier (boys); Guilford (girls)
What to look for: Conditions for the race should be good, as the forecast calls for partly cloudy skies with a temperature of 70 and a wind of nine miles per hour. As Xavier coach Chris Stonier said, the course is fast due to a lack of hills. Look for the faster runners to excel per usual, like Christian Alvarado of Fairfield Prep on the boys’ side and Danae Rivers of Wilbur Cross on the girls’ side. The boys race will once again come down to Xavier, Amity and Fairfield Prep. Amity likes to run in packs to score better times, with the fast course in Madison, the Spartans may need to keep it up to stay with the Falcons and Jesuits. Meanwhile the girls’ race can go either way. Guilford is going for its’ fourth straight crown, but this could very well be Mercy’s year. The Tigers’ boast Kaleigh Roberts, who should dominate and is looking to avenge a loss to former Hillhouse star Kellie Davis in last year’s race. Cheshire and Amity should be neck and neck throughout.
You should know: If Guilford wins its’ fourth straight title, it still won’t match the Indians’ best run of SCC dominance.The Indians won five in a row from 2004-2008. Amity boys finished fourth in the Wickham Invitational, the highest of any SCC team. The Spartans come into the title meet with a ton of momentum as they look to pick up their first championship since 2008.
— Henry Chisholm