NEW CANAAN — Following an undefeated season that saw it capture the FAA regular season title, the Sacred Heart Greenwich cross country team knew what was on its agenda next. Winning the conference’s championship meet, of course.
And that’s exactly what the Tigers did Tuesday, as they added yet another accomplishment to their already memorable season.
Placing five runners among the top 15 finishers, Sacred Heart finished first in the team standings at the FAA Championships held at Waveny Park, totaling a score of 44 points. Hopkins School was the runner-up (63), followed by Holy Child (69) and Greenwich Academy (72).
Sacred Heart’s first FAA championship meet title was keyed by freshman standout Grace Lillis, who won the 3.1-mile race in a time of 19 minutes, 22.3 seconds. Lillis, who has performed well beyond her years all season, was all alone as she approached the finish line.
“I was able to increase my lead during the second mile,” Lillis said. “It was the big race of the season, so I just pushed myself. I thought about my whole team, so I tried to do it for them, because I know they are working just as hard as I am.”
Lillis had an impressive mile pace of 6:14.
“Grace has been a strong runner from the get-go,” Sacred Heart coach Suzanne Myette said. “She has performed awesome all season and she is a great athlete. I think she may have gotten the course record today for this meet.”
Building a lead from the outset, Lillis enjoyed navigating her way through windy Waveny’s course.
“It goes by quick for me, because I separate the different parts,” Lillis said. “The first mile is fields, the second one is through the woods, then there is the ending. Knowing that our team won feels amazing, all the hard work has paid off.”
Sophomore Elena Brennan of Hopkins placed second overall with a time of 19;53.7, while teammate Maliya Ellis was third (20:12.2).
“I’m pretty happy with my place, it was not the ideal day for me, but I’m pretty happy with how I went out,” Ellis said. “A combination of mindset and fatigue got to me at the end, but I’m happy that I was pushing through to the end.”
Junior Dandridge Bell of Holy Child finished fourth (20:38.8) and Greenwich Academy senior Sarah Callahan took fifth (20:40.7).
“This course is really great, they made some adjustments to it to steer us away from the wet patches because of the storm,” Callahan said. “I’m thankful that we were able to race here, because it’s such a fast course and we’re all happy to be on this course. This was the fastest race I’ve ever run and the first time I broke 21.”
Anissa Arakel, a junior, had Sacred Heart’s next best finish, placing sixth (21:03.5).
“Our team has so much depth this year, with our entire team finishing up in the top 20,” Arakel said. “We had a very fast start today and our whole team came through.”
Kaitlin Forman of Hopkins School was eighth (21:12.8), Claire Furio from Holy Child finished ninth (21:15) and Tigers junior Grace Flanagan rounded out the top 10 (21:39.3).
Greens Farms Academy freshman Caroline McCall finished 11th in her first championship race (21:46.9), despite taking a fall.
“After I fell, I got right back up, I had to deal with it,” McCall said. “It’s the championship and what you work for all season, so I had to persevere through it. We’re really excited about building our team for the future.”
GA junior Julia Howe had an 11th-place finish in 21.50.7, while Tigers teammates Maggy Wolanske (21:54.5) and Karina Badey (21:55.8) were 12th and 13th respectively.
“I’m thrilled, I wanted that time so badly,” said Wolanske, a senior co-captain. “All the varsity runners wrote down their past best times on their hand during practice for motivation. We were all running hard for each other.”
Elena Tan and Anji Van Biesen were 15th and 16th respectively, for the Gators, while junior Ella Holl took 18th for Sacred Heart. The top 10 finishers were named to the All-FAA Team. Those placing 11-20 made Honorable Mention.
Rye Country Day School (166), Masters School (166) tied for fifth in the team standings, followed by Greens Farms (185) and King School (198). Senior Rachel Bissell had King’s top finish, placing 21st in 22:24.3.
“It was a little harder than usual, because a lot of people were injured who just came back,” Bissell said. “It’s a little bittersweet, since I’m a senior and I’m going to miss this.”
Lily Deconcini was 25th for Sacred Heart (25:55.8).
“Our team has been so focused from the first time we won our first FAA meet back in September,” Myette said. “From that day, we had this goal of winning the league and winning the championship meet today was icing on the cake.”
Said Tigers co-captain Barbara Jones: “There has been such positive energy on our team the whole season. Everyone is on the same page.”
Senior Megan DeMott was 24th for Greenwich Academy (22:55.8), while teammate Lily Schaeffer, a senior, finished 30th (23:14.1).
“That was my best time by a minute, so I feel really good,” DeMott said. “I live in New Canaan, so is this my favorite course and I love running in the woods.”
Said GA coach Jane Finch: “With 14 runners on our roster and performing like we are, I can’t complain. They did a fabulous job.”