MADISON >> Defending champion Mercy, and first-year coach Kathryn Schumann, was feeling the pressure heading into Friday’s Southern Connecticut Conference cross country championship meet.
But as the starting gun went off at Hammonasset Beach State Park, the Tigers left little doubt they would bring the trophy back home.
Mackenzie Pias led the charge with a first-place finish as the Tigers scored 53 points to claim back-to-back conference titles.
“Last year was the first one and you’re always excited, but this one, it felt like there was a little more pressure going into it, not only from other people, but from ourselves,” Schumann said. “It’s hard getting on the bus because you have to bring the championship trophy back and set it on the table. We wanted to bring it back with us.”
Mercy placed four girls in the top 15 and Pias ran an incredible race, leading from start to finish in a course-record time of 18 minutes, 32 seconds.
“I definitely wanted to get out ahead of everyone else so I could just hold it off until the end,” Pias said. “I was definitely pushing myself; I probably went out a little too fast, but it definitely paid off.”
Pias’ time broke the record (18:37) set by teammate and 2013 winner Kaleigh Roberts.
“I think she surprised herself a little bit, not only going faster than the course record but just knowing who had the course record; and she beat Kaleigh’s time,” Schumann said. “I don’t think it’s sunk in quite yet. She came in wanting to go under 19 and to go further into the 18s, she’s pretty excited about that.”
Pias led from the start and built a sizeable advantage over runner-up Danae Rivers of Wilbur Cross. Rivers’ time was 18:52.
“She didn’t have too big of lead, just enough of a lead for me to focus and try and reel her in and get away from the pack,” Rivers said. “I think that was pretty fun, to have someone to look at, a focus point. I was closing in, but she wanted it.”
Amity finished second with 78 points as sophomore Emily Criscuolo clocked 19:41 for fourth. Guilford was third (97), Cheshire fourth (118) and Branford fifth (127).
Mercy’s Bridgid Selfors took third (19:25) and Cyrene Nicholas of Branford finished fifth (19:51).