WATERTOWN >> Overall girls winner Gabriella Prizio, a Derby sophomore, won just two dual meets before her triumph (19:53.22) at the NVL Cross Country Meet at Veterans Memorial Park Wednesday afternoon.
Overall boys winner Dan Schumacher (15:54.62), a junior at Naugatuck, lost to both of Watertown’s top runners, Seamus Rafferty and Bryan Maloney, in a dual meet just a week ago.
Wednesday, the winners opened up big leads. The past was a huge part of their inspiration.
“I was mentally weak. I didn’t think I could beat these girls,” said Prizio, who finished in the top 10 in her dual meets all year. “This was my chance.”
“With three quarters of a mile left to go, I just knew, once I sped up, there was no slowing back down,” said Schumacher, who improved his personal best time 25 seconds. “The key was coming in relaxed, with a positive mind set.”
Woodland’s girls and Naugatuck’s boys took team titles.
Torrington High School’s boys cross country team, led by senior Jon Pirla, rode its experience to third place.
The Red Raider girls team, led by sophomore Ashlynn Cook, sailed into seventh place (out of 11 teams) loaded with young potential.
Pirla (16:33.95) and Cook (21:26.95) weren’t far off the winning pace.
Pirla, Torrington’s only All-NVL finisher, was out with knee problems much of the season. After finishing seventh last year, Pirla refused to let pain get the best of him.
“I started feeling it at the beginning,” he said. “But this is my last NVL race, so I pushed it and it went away. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.”
It was a good thing for results. The push carried him to fifth place.
“That’s all I could ask for, considering I was out for most of the season,” he said.
Fellow seniors Matt Titus and Adonys Langual finished 11th and 14th overall, good for All-Copper Division honors. Like Pirla, they tried to do better for their NVL finale.
“I was looking for All-NVL (top eight finishers overall),” said Titus.
“I felt pretty good when I started, but I tripped on the way through the woods,” said Langual.
Two more seniors, Josh Miles and Jerry Arguero rounded out Torrington’s scoring in 29th and 37th.
“I had a little more left,” said Miles, who re-made his stride to compensate for tendonitis that began two years ago.
Arguero might have been the happiest of the group.
“This is my first year,” he grinned. “I never ran distance in my life.”
Cook, an All-Copper Division finisher in 16th place, placed 34th a year ago. This year, she kept her goals simple.
“I wanted to go out and get my best time,” she said.
Cook finished in 21:26 when she “usually” comes in at 23 minutes.
Her lead spread among Raider teammates.
“I didn’t know I was going to run this well,” smiled Gabrielle Vega, half apologizing for a glorious season debut as a freshman. “I never did it before.”
Vega’s 23:18.69 was her best time, good for 33rd overall behind Cook.
Sophomore Lindsay Mathieu was the first Torrington girl across the finish line last year. This year, she had knee problems.
“I could have done better,” she said, 40th overall. Nevertheless, her 23:35 was still her best time of the year by two-and-a-half minutes.
Paulina Koloda, a senior, suffered a stress fracture two years ago. It didn’t stop her from running, though it still bothers her.
“I wanted to do better,” she said, finishing 50th (24:24.71) in her final race for the Raiders. She takes the ACTs a week from Saturday, the same day as the cross country class meets.
As the final scorer for the girls team, “I felt very responsible,” laughed junior Marisa Parks.
In 62nd place overall, Parks shaved a minute off her best time, completing an overall best effort for a team that brings everyone back but Kolada next year.
Prizio’s winning margin over runner-up Mary Sardinskas, a senior from Woodland, was 17 seconds.
“I can’t wait for next year,” Prizio beamed.
Ashlynn Cook has the formula for her teammates.
“It’s all about practicing over and over and over again,” said Cook. “Nobody likes to do it, but it’s good to have people with you who are your friends.”
NVL Cross Country Championships
At Veterans Memorial Park, Watertown
Girls: 1. Woodland 42; 2. Watertown 76; 3. Wolcott 98; 4. Naugatuck 114; 5. Derby 135; 6. Kennedy 165; 7. Torrington 183; 8. St. Paul Catholic 190; 10. Seymour 212; 11. Crosby 298.
Boys: 1. Naugatuck 42; 2. Watertown 50; 3. Torrington 96; 4. Kennedy 130; 5. Woodland Regional 144; 6. Holy Cross 173; 7. Derby 199; 8. Crosby 214; 9. St. Paul Catholic 221; 10. Sacred Heart 229; 11. Wolcott 240; 12. Seymour 264.
Individual Winners and Torrington Top Five
Girls: 1. Gabriella Prizio, Derby 19:53.22; 16. Ashlynn Cook, Torrington 21:26.95; 33. Gabrielle Vega, Torrington 23:18.69; 40. Lindsay Mathieu, Torrington, 23:35.16; 50. Paulina Koloda, Torrington 24:24.71; 62. Marisa Parks, Torrington 25:59.51.
Boys: 1. Dan Schumacher, Naugatuck 15:54.62; 5. Jon Pirla, Torrington 16:33.95; 11. Matt Titus, Torrington 17:22.39; 14. Adonys Langual, Torrington 17:33.15; 29. Josh Miles, Torrington 18:13.92; 37. Jerry Arguero, Torrington 18:35.56.
Torrington All-NVL (Top 8 overall)
Torrington All-Copper Division (Top 8 minus overall top 8)
Girls: Ashlynn Cook
Boys: Matt Titus; Adonys Langual