CLINTON >> Powered by senior Maddie Brandon’s incredible run to a third straight Shoreline Conference individual championship, the Haddam-Killingworth girls cross country team outlasted defending champ Coginchaug and captured its first league title since 1987.
Shortly after, H-K’s Cameron Garrelts, Andrew Meredith, and Daniel Schumann finished 1-2-3 in the boys race as the Cougars continued their dominance by winning their fifth SLC title in six seasons, capping a memorable day for Haddam-Killingworth Thursday at the Indian River Complex.
“Top to bottom, boys and girls, varsity and jv, it was just a fantastic day,” Haddam-Killingworth coach Matt Diglio said. “I’m very proud of them. They’ve worked hard all season long and its kind of the fruits of their labor right here.”
Brandon’s third title wasn’t easy as she battled Coginchaug senior Samantha Drop through the entire 3.1 mile course.
“I’ve never felt that kind of burn in my legs,” Brandon said. “I pushed myself way harder than I’ve ever pushed myself. I felt I had nothing to lose.”
Brandon’s winning time was 19 minutes and 35 seconds, while Drop, who is headed to Georgia, finished in 19:52.
“Maddie ran a real smart race,” Diglio added. “She’s been a leader all year long. She sets the example and has a great work ethic.”
Also scoring for the champion Cougars were Kelsey D’Amico (sixth, 20:25.0), Mary Coletti (seventh, 20:32.5), Lexie Bouthillier (ninth, 20:44.0) and Lizzy Early (18th, 21:51.5). Annelise Walsh placed 20th, while Erica Allen finished 21st for H-K.
“This has been the most team oriented year that we’ve had,” Brandon said. “Getting some new girls on our team and getting some upperclassmen that really stepped up this year, I now had a team that for distance runs was running with me. It worked out better than it could have. I’ve won Shoreline two years in a row but this is the happiest I’ve been even if I got second because my team did awesome. I’m so proud of them.”
Haddam-Killingworth scored 42 points, while runner-up Coginchaug had 58 points. Old Saybrook was third (105), Hale-Ray placed fourth (125) and East Hampton was fifth (144). The Bellringers were followed by Lyme-Old Lyme (149), Portland (175), Morgan (195), Cromwell (242), Valley Regional (247) and North Branford (287).
“I brought it up to the girls the other day and they already knew the last time the school won it was in 1987,” Diglio said. “We new all season that Coginchaug was going to be very strong. The girls worked hard all summer long. This was one of their goals that they set for the season and they had a good day today. Hopefully, we’ll continue it at states and the state open. But this was a nice stepping stone to the championship meets coming up.”
Brandon’s thoughts after crossing the finish line turned to her brother, UConn senior Peter Brandon, who also won a SLC cross country title during his final season at H-K.
“We’re very similar and I remember him saying in his senior year that he pushed himself harder than he’s ever had,” said Brandon, whose college choices include Iona, Rider and Monmouth. “I understand what he was talking about.”
The Top 10 finishers earned All-Shoreline First Team honors and included East Hampton’s Sydney Georgiades, third, 20:13.0; Cromwell’s Nicole Bitinaitis, fourth, 20:19.0; Coginchaug’s Alexandra Alsup, fifth, 20:22.5; Old Saybrook’s Jael Givehand, eighth, 20:41.8; and Old Lyme’s Emma Pennie, 10th, 20:54.
Garrelts, the pre-race favorite, was the runner-up a year ago against Coginchaug’s Christian Alberico.
“My goal was to have a good race and hopefully hold on for first,” said Garrelts, whose winning time was 16:49.1. “It’s really nice finally to win it. I wanted this real bad. Everyone on the team did very well today.”
Meredith’s runner-up time was 17:09.1. Schumann placed third in 17:13.4, while H-K’s Jonah Spector was fifth (17:30.1).
Conor McCabe also scored for the Cougars, placing 10th in 17:42.1, while teammates Michael Callis and Doug Brown finished 11th and 18th, respectively.
“Cameron’s got a young varsity squad behind him,” Diglio said. “He’s our only senior. He sets the tone and the kids follow his lead. He also ran a smart race today. We’ve kind of held him back a little bit all season long and we’ve kind of started to turn him loose now at the championship meets. He’s just starting to get rolling now.”
Joining the five Cougars on the All-Shoreline First Team were Old Saybrook’s Shane Henderson, fourth, 17:25.1; Hale-Ray’s Thomas Barlow, sixth, 17:31.1; Portland’s David Tacey, seventh, 17:32.1; Old Saybrook’s Connel Henderson, eighth, 17:39.9; and Coginchaug’s Peter Schulten, ninth, 17:41.9.
Haddam-Killingworth scored 21 points, while runner-up Old Saybrook had 68 points. Coginchaug was third (108), Lyme-Old Lyme placed fourth (117), while Hale-Ray finished fifth (122). The Noises were followed by East Hampton (170), Portland (200), Valley Regional(207), Cromwell (227), North Branford (244), and Morgan (258).
“We knew the boys were going to be the favorite but I didn’t know they were going to run as well as they did,” said Diglio, now in his ninth season. “To score 21 points in the Shoreline Conference championship meet is impressive.”