Mercy coach Kathryn Schumann says this is the first time in a while she’s seen the Southern Connecticut Conference championships this wide open.
Schumann is in her first year as head coach, but served as an assistant under John Hastings for the past few years and has a good idea of the meet history.
Heading into Friday’s meet at Hammonasset State Park in Madison, there isn’t a clear-cut individual on either the boys’ or girls’ side expected to run away with the crown.
Parity has been the name of the game this fall.
“Yeah, it’s really motivating because you know you can beat any of these people and they’re not just going to blow you out,” Amity sophomore Emily Criscuolo said.
Gone is two-time champion Christian Alvarado of Fairfield Prep, who is now at Georgetown. Also gone is 2013 winner Kaleigh Roberts of Mercy, who is running for Quinnipiac.
There will be a new set of champions. For runners in the SCC gunning for the title, that’s encouraging.
“I know I’ve been running in the shadow of Chris for the past few years,” Xavier senior and Siena-bound Jack O’Hara said. “Hammonasset is a flat, fast course, so I think it will be wide open.”
O’Hara is the top returner after placing sixth last year. He’ll be challenged by Cheshire’s Russell Adam, who finished seventh, and Amity sophomore Kyle Beaudette (11th).
“I definitely think (I have) a shot,” Beaudette said. “There are a lot of good guys in the SCC like O’Hara. I ran 15:34 at Wilton and that course is a little long, so I’m looking to do some really good things at SCCs and take it.”
There are a handful of other names that could cross the line first, including Cheshire freshman Brendan Murray, who has emerged as one of the top contenders. He finished third last weekend at the Wickham Invitational (16:31).
“However the race plays out, it could be a very surprising person,” Xavier coach Chris Stonier said. “It’s cross country. Every course is different, every race is different; different terrain, different weather. Cross country, you never really know.”
On the girls’ side, junior Danae Rivers of Wilbur Cross is the top returner after taking second place last season. Mercy’s Mackenzie Pias, who placed seventh, is coming off a strong showing at the Wickham Invitational.
Criscuolo, Branford’s Cyrene Nicholas and Mercy’s Bridgid Selfors have all produced strong times this fall and will be in contention.
The team competition picture seems to be a little clearer.
“I think there’s a clear-cut winner,” Stonier said. “I hate to say it, but I think that Amity is by far the favorite.”
The Spartans completed an undefeated regular season and won the Housatonic Division championship. They’ll be looking to capture their first conference title since 2008.
“We’re looking to do some big things and it starts with SCC,” Beaudette said. “We have to win our conference to think bigger and better.”
On the girls’ side, Mercy is the defending champion and is in good position to repeat after going undefeated in the regular season and winning the Quinnipiac Division.
With a new coach and the loss of their best runner, the Tigers have gone through a surprisingly seamless transition.
“It doesn’t seem right to lose your best kid and be a better team; that usually doesn’t happen,” Schumann said. “Winning was new for us, but once you get that first big win you want to do it again and that’s really motivated our kids to keep going.”
Added Pias: “It’s definitely different from last year, but we’ve come together more and building up from the bottom as opposed to having a couple people at the top. We’re all working hard to fill what Kaleigh left.”
Mercy senior Hannah Albert said the Tigers will be challenged by Branford and Amity on Friday, but are confident going into the meet.
“I think that with any team, they’ll want to try and get some of the top people,” Albert said. “And since we did win last time, people are going to be trying again. But we’ve been training really hard and we’re pretty confident.”