NEW CANAAN >> For all that was built up upon Staple High’s Hannah DeBalsi’s 2014 cross country debut at the FCIAC Championships, her performance actually took a backseat Monday afternoon at Waveny Park, as her team stole the spotlight.
DeBalsi captured first place in a time of 13 minutes and 37 seconds, but more importantly for the Wreckers, they placed four girls in the top 10, scoring 37 points en route to their first FCIAC title since 1997.
“Of course I’m thrilled Hannah won, she looked great, she looked happy, Erica (Hefnawy) had a great race, but having four girls in the top 10 to me, is by far the best part of today,” Staples head coach Amanda Morgan said.
Staples edged out defending champion Ridgefield who placed second (73), while Darien finished third (81).
“This is one of the championship meets I thought we could win,” Morgan said. “So finishing third at (State) Opens last year, that was great, but there’s something a little bit different about getting a title, even if it’s a conference title, rather than a state title. I’m just really happy.”
Morgan was a runner on the 1997-98 squad that was the last team from Staples to win a conference title.
It’s been a steady uphill climb for the Wreckers the last few seasons to get to the point they are at now. In 2012 they captured eighth place. A year ago they finished runner-up.
“Ever since Amanda came my sophomore year, I feel like we’ve been so blessed,” said Hefnawy, who took third place (14:44). “Amanda just cares so much about it and same with Malcolm (Watson); they just care so much about the program. It means so much and everyone just works so hard.”
DeBalsi, who is training and building up for the postseason in hopes of a return trip to the national stage in December at Foot Lockers, led the charge for Staples from start to finish Monday. Her time was less than 10 seconds off the 4K course record (13:29) from last year that she set.
For her first race in nearly four months, the junior was pleased.
“I was happy with my time and how I felt,” DeBalsi said.
Anne Johnston of Darien took second place (14:39) and Wilton’s Mary Lynch (14:54) and Olivia Bernardini (15:09) round out the top five. Staples’ Suzie Martin finished in seventh (15:14) and Katherine Smith was eighth (15:15) to help propel the Wreckers to a conference crown.
Wilton finished in fourth place as a team, while Fairfield Warde was fifth.
1. Staples 37, 2. Ridgefield 73, 3. Darien 81, 4. Wilton 88, 5. Warde 94, 6. Trumbull 169, 7. New Canaan 175, 8. Ludlowe 224, 9. Greenwich 265, 10. Danbury 297, 11. Stamford 362, 12. St. Joseph 365, 13. Norwalk 416, 14. Harding 452