DARIEN — Darien’s cross country runners have become very adept at being road warriors. Fifteen years without a home meet tends to have that effect.
But as the Blue Wave is finding out this fall, there’s no place like home.
Running on the new course on the Darien High School campus, the Blue Wave boys and girls each improved to 2-0 at home by defeating visiting Stamford on Tuesday.
Senior Lucas Madariaga won the boys race in 16:25 over 4,800 meters, and junior Mairead Clas won the girls race in 15:32 over 3,000 meters.
— Dave Stewart (@DStewartSports) October 13, 2020
For the Wave runners, competing in their backyard has been a long time coming.
“It’s really nice that we can get off the road,” Madariaga said with a smile. “It’s a nice surface, very low-impact, so it will definitely help with injuries, and it really helped with summer training. All of the guys who did summer training here have improved greatly, which was super important for us.”
“It’s really exciting and it gives us a lot of confidence having this home course,” Clas said. “We’re all motivated to do better. It’s still a new course so we’re getting used to it. I think everybody here ran faster than they did in the first meet on this court. I think the more we run on it, the more we’ll improve.”
The race course begins and ends on the practice football field, located just beyond the stadium field. It runs through several areas of woods, and features a long, steady uphill starting near the baseball field and running alongside the soccer fields before peaking near the softball field and Nutmeg Lane.
— Dave Stewart (@DStewartSports) October 13, 2020
The course drew praise from Stamford coach Fred Kelley.
“The course was excellent,” Kelley said. “We also have our own course at Scofield (Magnet School) now, and I know Darien has been fighting to get this done. It went smoothly, and the kids were raving about it, so it went really well. You’ve got the woods view, it was nice starting on the turf, and there’s not a lot of hills, which is good when you’re a runner. I was impressed.”
More than 15 years ago, the Blue Wave ran home meets at Wee Burn Country Club, but were limited to Mondays when the golf course was closed the public. When the club shifted the layout of its greens, the course was virtually wiped out, and the runners went on the road.
The new course, which was funded by the Darien Athletic Foundation, was approved by the Board of Education two years ago and completed in time for training and competition this year.
— Dave Stewart (@DStewartSports) October 14, 2020
Darien has done well on its home course, beating rival New Canaan on opening day and now Stamford.
The Wave took the top nine places in the boys race, with the top five scorers including Madariaga, Luke Riordan (16:58), Evan O’Rourke (17:00), Nick Yoo (17:07), and Ryan Jones (17:24).
The Darien girls had the top eight runners, with the top five scores including Clas, Hope Johnson (16:03), Juliana Raia (16:22), Julianne Teitler (16:29), and Avery Johnson (17:03).
Stamford was led by Matt Tromba, who was 10th in the boys race at 18:00, and Carlee Reid, who was ninth in the girls race at 18:39.
For the Blue Wave, having a true home course goes beyond cross country races.
“We don’t have an indoor track and we didn’t have a cross country course, so the only time we were here was two or three outdoor track meets,” Darien boys coach Tyson Kaczmarek said. “This is a good way for us to be able to showcase our program, and it’s great not just for the school but the town. It doubles as a great place for training.”
Darien girls coach Steve Norris pointed out the course also provides a great visual for spectators, with many places to see runners at several times during the race.
“It draws interest,” Norris said. “We don’t have spectators now because of COVID, but I can foresee in the next year, if we have some key meets here, there will be a lot of people here and a lot of excitement.”
The long uphill along the soccer fields, also known as “The Oval” for the shape of the school driveway at that section, is likely the most challenging part of the course due to its long, steady rise of about 700 meters.
“It’s deceivingly difficult,” Kaczmarek said. “You wouldn’t think it would run as hard as it does, but it was interesting to get the feedback from the guys. They’re the ones racing on it, so what I may think is challenging, they don’t, and vice versa.”
“That’s the point you have to buckle down and go for it,” Madariaga said.
Although Madariaga said he didn’t feel as great in his second race on the new course, he still won and is now 2-for-2 at DHS.
After missing his junior cross country season with an injury, Madariaga has come back strong to lead the Wave this fall.
“We didn’t realize how much we missed him until this year,” Kaczmarek said. “He probably would’ve been our No. 1 or 2 last year, but Lucas brings a lot more than just results. He’s vocal, his leadership skills are excellent, and he knows just what to say at the right times. He’s done a great job of making sure the guys stay motivated and keep their edge.”
While Stamford was handed losses on Tuesday, Kelley is optimistic about his group. He said the girls program has its best numbers despite the pandemic, and he pointed to freshmen such as Jasmine Whitfield and Ellie Fox, and sophomore Samantha Yap as young runners with big potential.
The boys are led by seniors Tromba and James DeBeradinis
“The kids need something like this because they were cooped up for so long,” Kelley said. “You can hear the chatter in the background and the kids are having fun. These girls are up and coming. We compete in the FCIAC, so sometimes, it doesn’t look great compared to some of the other schools, but they’re improving and they’re young. For the boys, this is the best all-around team I’ve had in 10 years.
“They’re having a ball out here.”