BETHEL — Standards of excellence were set at the SWC cross country championships Friday as New Milford captured both the boys and girls title and Kate Wiser of Pomperaug left her final mark in record-breaking fashion.
“I think it’s a great thing for the school, especially during a time where everybody’s going through some tough times,” New Milford boys coach Chris Bacich said. “I think this is a real boost for the program and the athletic program of the school.”
The New Milford boys were led by Andrew Taborsak (17:14.52) and Robert Harkin (17:42.12) finished second and fourth overall, while Claire Daniels (19:10.14) and Sydney Kelleher (20:16.60) finished third and fifth overall for the girls.
Individually, Wiser captured her fourth consecutive SWC title, breaking her own course record in the process with a time of 17:16.78.
“I’m definitely a little sad that it’s over,” Wiser said. “But I’m happy that I was able to improve on last year’s time. I’ve been working pretty hard over quarantine, putting in a lot of training. Today I just wanted to enjoy my last race with Pomperaug and have a good time with the team.”
Wiser’s run was so impressive, in fact, that she would have finished third overall in the SWC boys championship.
“I think I’ve been able to build and improve throughout my career,” Wiser said. “Looking back at the process, with running it’s gradual and you have to put in the work every day, so seeing the improvement throughout my time here has been amazing. I’m going to miss this a lot.”
Patrick Gibbons of New Fairfield was the boys individual champion with a time of 17:03.92.
The meet was separated into North Division races and South Division races based on geographical location before the results were merged to declare the true SWC champions.
Despite the meet being split, the North Division proved to be significantly more competitive, with many of the top finishers and both New Milford teams.
Girls North Division
Wiser dominated the individual competition, finishing 1 minute, 37 seconds ahead of second-place Ava Graham (18:53.79) of Bethel.
New Milford’s Claire Daniels was the third-place finisher, with Samantha Ruggiero (20:12.01) of New Fairfield sandwiched between Kelleher’s fifth-place finish.
“It started this summer,” New Milford girls coach Giles Vaughan said. “They really, in very strange times, worked so hard to put themselves in this position. We always felt like we were the fittest team, and if we just ran our race that fitness would take care of everything else, and I think that showed today.”
New Milford was the favorite entering the meet, having gone undefeated throughout the regular season with Daniels, Maddie Sweeney, Kelleher and Shae Zeitler all finishing in the top five in each regular-season meet.
For the championship, however, New Milford found itself without Sweeney, who is in the conversation of top five runners in the SWC.
“My two and five runners were missing today, so this shows our depth,” Vaughan said. “We were the favorites until a couple of injuries. We always felt we had that good depth but you always want to bring your best runners to your championship race, but I’m really proud of this group because they dug deep and ran for their teammates out there.”
The Green Wave needed new faces to step up, and that is exactly what they did.
“We had some really big performances from the back half of our group,” Vaughan said. “Leah Farrell coming back from an injury to run four for us today; Izzy Greene’s only a freshman and she’s kind of been our five runner all year, and really huge today too was senior captain Shannon Palmer who’s been injured all year. She’s barely raced and overcame a lot and displaced New Fairfield’s number five runner.”
New Milford’s last girls championship came in 2010. They will look to build a dynasty similar to that of the New Milford boys.
“This is my eighth year coaching the girls. I was the boys assistant for five years where all we did was win,” Vaughan said. “I was used to that, and it’s taken me about seven years to bring that culture and instill the confidence in these guys and the trust in what we were doing.”
Boys North Division
The New Milford boys dominated both the North Division and the overall competition with four top-10 finishers overall.
“RJ Harkin and Andrew Taborsak, both of those guys have been one and two for us all year long,” Bacich said. “We expected them to be up there and competing for the top spots and they came through today.”
Taborsak, Harkin, Connor Delpha (18:13.10) and Caleb Cerra (18:17.05) finished in the top seven in the North Division race.
New Milford has a history of dominating the SWC, having now won 17 of the last 22 SWC boys titles.
“We’re really excited; we thought we could pull it off this year,” Bacich said. “I think the mere fact that we had a season was the real first victory, but coming out here with the win against some pretty solid SWC competition is exciting for us. The returning seniors did a great job with preparation this year. They fought through the whole COVID thing, they got through it and got their training in. We also have two freshmen in our seven-man lineup and that was a bit of a surprise this year, to have those guys competing at the varsity level.”
Patrick Gibbons of New Fairfield was crowned both the North Division and SWC overall champion despite underperforming to his expectations.
“I’m a little disappointed, to be honest,” Gibbons said. “I came into the race hoping to beat the field by 30 seconds because I’ve raced almost every team here and have beaten them by about 30 seconds. The team did great, I’m really happy about how well the team did, I felt like I could have gotten a little more out of myself, though.”
The junior, who took the top spot despite taking two wrong turns during the race, looked back at the season proudly.
“It was a weird season, we shouldn’t be in November doing SWCs; that should have been a month ago,” Gibbons said. “Since quarantine I’ve been training and about two weeks ago we had a week off after a close call at our school, so we had to train by ourselves again. With the amount of inconsistency we dealt with over the season, I’m very happy with how our team did. We had a winning season this year, 4-2, and this is the first time we’ve had a winning season in six years.”
Girls South Division
The South Division completely belonged to Joel Barlow, which was led by first-place finisher Amber Borofsky (22:21.69).
Borofsky was followed by teammates Ellie Chan and Sydney Borofsky, who claimed second and third place in the South Division.
“Over the season our team has put in a lot of work and it was really clear at the start how well we were going to do compared to other teams,” Borofsky said. “This is my third year running and with us, the amount of work that the girls have put in this season has gone up tremendously.”
In total, Barlow boasted six of the top-10 division finishers and as a team totaled just 19 points, with second-place Bunnell totaling 63 points.
“It’s kind of crazy, my freshman year I don’t think Barlow was anywhere near this competitive,” Amber Borofsky said. “The growth we’ve made over the last two years has been insane. Even if we don’t do too well against the North Division, I think we’re really happy with how this race went.”
Borofsky wound up finishing 16th overall individually with Barlow finishing seventh overall in team scoring.
“They’re really happy that they won and I think they wish they had an opportunity to run against the North Division, but we didn’t even think the season was going to happen,” Barlow girls coach Ryan Paola said. “We never thought we would get to this point so the girls are thankful we even had a season.”
“While we won, it wasn’t because there wasn’t the same competition there might have been,” Paola said. “It was because our team is a really good team. They’ve trained really hard and this is the strongest team I’ve ever had.”
Boys South Division
Joel Barlow came away victorious in the boys South Division as well, though it was a significantly closer race.
“They’re tired and they’re going home because that’s the format,” Barlow boys coach Jerry Bielizna said. “I think they’re probably pretty happy, I don’t think it’s sunk in yet, but it is what it is. The two top teams in the South were Weston and Barlow and we knew it would be one of us so I don’t think it’s that big a surprise.”
Barlow and Weston tied with 32 points, forcing a tiebreaker decided by whichever team’s sixth runner finished first, as Barlow’s Ryan Thomas finished 12th over Weston’s 15th-place finish.
Barlow finished fourth overall once scores were merged with the North Division, while Weston finished fifth.
“We’ve won the division numerous times over the years,” Bielizna said. “This being the COVID year and the divisions being based on geography rather than normal Colonial and Patriot, it’s just very different. You’re never are ungrateful to win a championship but it is what it is.”
Weston’s Ryan Rupprecht was the SWC South Division champion, finishing in 17:31.30, good for third overall in the SWC once scores were merged.
Similar to other runners in conference championships that were split, Rupprecht felt the disadvantages of running first.
“I was really disappointed, I was looking to try to win the whole thing with a time between 16:30-16:40, but that didn’t happen,” Rupprecht said. “I was thinking of pushing after the beast but there was no motivation. It’s really hard when you’re alone. It was a long season and it was a weird season and I really just expected better. I’m thankful for winning the South, but I really wish we had more competition today.”