1. Hannah DeBalsi watch
What will Hannah DeBalsi do in her final season? The rising Staples senior enters her last season on the Connecticut trails. She hasn’t lost an in-state race since her freshman year. DeBalsi is coming off a solid end to the track season where she placed third in the Brooks PR 2 mile, running 10:03.24.
The All-American distance runner is healthy and has a chance to not only be the top runner in the Northeast but nation.
Can she qualify for her third straight Foot Locker Championships this year? And can she finally win her first cross country national title? If training and her health all stay on the same path, DeBalsi has a great shot.
2. Who will replace Alex Ostberg?
Possibly the greatest cross country runner in state history is gone. Darien’s Alex Ostberg set a course record (14:58) at Wickham Park last fall. He is now off in California starting his first year at Stanford. So the question is, who will be the next great CT runner?
There’s been Henry Wynne, Christian Alvarado, Ostberg and now? Unlike previous years, there isn’t a clear-cut next runner in line. But there is a handful that could potential fill the top spot.
- Ridgefield senior Gabe Altopp placed fourth at New Englands last fall (15:48) and comes in with the best returning time. He battled injuries during track season so fans didn’t get a glimpse of him this past spring.
- Darien’s Army Noonan ran with Ostberg the past few years and has the experience. He finished sixth at outdoor nationals in the 2 mile (9:05.82) and ran 15:55 at the State Open Cross Country Championships last year.
- Glastonbury’s Randy Neish was the top junior last fall at the State Open (15:51) and coming off a solid track season where he won the State Open 1,600 title (4:16.86).
- Brien McMahon’s Eric van der Els had possibly the best track season of the bunch. The former soccer star placed third in the 5,000 at outdoor nationals (14:41.05). He finished ninth last fall at State Open (16:05).
3. Can anyone stop Tolland?
Seriously though. Can anyone stop the Tolland girls? The Eagles enter this fall as the two-time State Open champs and four-time Class M state winners. Tolland returns four of the five runners that made history last year at the state meet when they swept the top five spots.
And if it’s possible, Tolland comes into the season with even more momentum. The Eagles’ indoor and outdoor track teams won Open titles to become the first girls team in CIAC history to claim three Open titles in a school year.
Tolland returns Class M champ Hayley Collins, Caitlin Swanson, Katherine Deloreto and Michaela Caron to name a few. Chance of Tolland slowing down at all? Not likely.
4. No. 1 boys team?
Tolland was a given as the No. 1 team in the state for the girls the last few years, and will be this year as well. The boys side, well, it seemed as there was a new team appearing in the No. 1 spot in the polls every week.
Ridgefield, Danbury, Staples, Amity. It wasn’t until the last week when Danbury emerged at the top team. The Hatters won the State Open crown and placed second at the New England Championships.
Who will be the top team this season? The field is wide open as FCIAC contenders Staples, Ridgefield, Danbury will all be in the mix as well as Amity of the SCC. Can the Spartans finally win an Open crown? And don’t count out New Milford of the SWC and the ever tough CCC.
Who are the surprise teams? Every year there seems to be a handful of improved squads and 2015 should be no different.
5. National spotlight
For the last several years Connecticut has had a steady presence in the national spotlight. Don’t expect that to change.
In Tullyrunners national preseason team rankings, Tolland, which finished eighth at the Nike Cross Northeast Nationals in 2014, is listed in the second batch of teams after the top 30. DeBalsi is ranked No. 2 in the same preseason rankings for individuals.
Last year Connecticut sent four individuals to the Foot Locker National Championships, while Ostberg won the Foot Locker Northeast title and Ridgefield’s Austin Gilbert won the NXN regional crown.
Who will step up this season and look to contend nationally?