Poll rankings, grades and even past performances don’t seem to faze the Fairfield Prep cross country team.
Heading into today’s Southern Connecticut Conference championships at Hammonassett State Park in Madison (1 p.m.), the Jesuits plan to make a run at the title.
“We’ll take a shot at Amity,” Prep coach Bob Ford Jr. said. “I mean, how else are you going to run?”
While the road to the SCC title seems to run through Woodbridge — the Spartans are the defending champs and ranked No. 2 in the state coaches poll — the Jesuits have put together an impressive campaign of their own.
A year removed from a season filled with injuries, and finding a new identity after the graduation of All-American distance runner Christian Alvarado, Prep is back.
“I hate calling it a rebuilding year, but it was,” Ford said. “We had a team where guys were constantly fighting injury, and we knew it going into the season. We didn’t like getting beat at dual meets.”
Senior co-captain Jack McGowen said the team trained hard over the summer so they were prepared to go right from the start. The Jesuits, ranked No. 4 in the state, recently captured the Quinnipiac Division crown. At the Wickham Park Invitational earlier this month, Prep had three runners finish in the top 10.
Led by McGowen and fellow senior co-captain George Crist, along with sophomore sensation Drew Thompson, Prep has three of the best runners in the state.
“Drew has really stepped it up,” McGowen said. “That’s the beauty of cross country. It doesn’t matter how old you are, the fastest guy is the fastest guy.”
Added Crist: “Well, we’re definitely going to have to run well against Amity. They have a good team. So we’re going to have to lean on our 4-5-6 runners.”
The Jesuits are enjoying this season and where it has taken them.
“I don’t think rankings had anything to do with it,” said Crist of motivation for this season. “I just think we wanted to try the best we could with what we have, and I think it’s turned out great.”
Amity girls want runners up, not runner-up
The Amity girls have been accustomed to finishing near, but not at, the top of the SCC. Since 1994, the Spartans have finished second seven times and placed in the top three 12 times. They haven’t won since 1999.
At the SCC championships, Amity is eyeing the top spot.
“I know for us, the last five or six years has been a rebuilding to where we’re always competitive, not necessarily the best,” Amity coach Sean Mahon said. “This year we’ve got some good runners.”
Amity went 9-0 in the regular season and captured the Housatonic Division title for the third consecutive season. The Spartans were the only ones to beat two-time defending SCC champion Mercy.
“I think we’re definitely toward the top of the SCC. It’s our goal to win it,” senior co-captain Melissa Taggart said.
Despite the loss of a few key runners to graduation, Amity responded with a more focused summer and relied on a team effort in each race.
“I feel like the depth of our team and everyone working a lot harder has been key,” senior co-captain Aleya Mahler said.
It will be a tall task for the Spartans to dethrone Mercy, as the Tigers have two of the best runners in the state in Mackenzie Pias and Bridgid Selfors.
“Everyone knows that we have to push each other,” senior captain Catherine Dunleavy said.
But this fall, as scores have shown, there is more parity in the SCC and many teams have a chance at the conference championship.
“I think the programs have been stepping up their practices and routines,” Mahon said. “The teams have become more equal. It’s good to have that competitiveness.”
SCC Cross Country Game Day
• When: Thursday
• Where: Hammonasset State Park
• Freshman boys: 1 p.m.
• Varsity girls: 1:40 p.m.
• Freshman girls: 2:20 p.m.
• Varsity boys: 3 p.m.
• Junior varsity girls: 3:40 p.m.
• Junior varsity boys: 4:20 p.m.
• Live results: pctiming.com