Branford head coach Kevin Connell has seen his fair share of track meets. So as the talent emerged this season, especially within the Southern Connecticut Conference, the 2003-04 indoor season crept into his mind.
It was a season where the Wilbur Cross girls dominated the State Open, and captured the crown by 27 points.
It was a season where the talent was spread out amongst the league. Career had hurdler/long jumper Natasha Harvey and jumper Nasha Cadette. Branford had long jump state-record holder Tahari James (19 feet, 9 inches). And Cross boasted standout sprinters Shanea and Shantea Calhoun.
“Here we are 10 years later with a whole different mix,” Connell said with a smile. “You have distances, relays, throws. I think if you’ve been around a while you can appreciate that.”
Monday’s State Open at the Floyd Little Athletic Center (3 p.m. start) may bring back flashes of 2004 for Connell and others. With an accomplished and driven crop of individuals, the SCC will be well represented.
“Oh yeah, I feel confident in every one of the girls in the SCC. I know we all work hard,” Branford hurdler Anna Atkinson said. “I know that all of us are very competitive and want to do the best we can.”
What has made this season unique is the conference’s diversity.
For years the Hillhouse girls dominated. Now the landscape has shifted a little. Cross, the SCC champion and Class L runner-up, comes in with a chance to win a team title. Individually there are a handful of SCC athletes striving for the title as best in the state.
“The competition has been good,” Cross sprinter Chaslynn Saucier said. “People are able to appreciate more of the talent from all the different schools, and luckily our school has been one of them. I think it’s definitely been spread out more. You get to see talent everywhere. You don’t have a main focus.”
The spotlight Monday, like Saucier said, will be in a variety of events. In the 55 hurdles, Atkinson, Career’s Milani Glass, Gabby Curtis of Cross and Hillhouse’s Jaliyah White all have a shot to medal.
“That’s kind of one of the great things about this,” Connell said. “Every single meet in the SCC you see White, Curtis, the same girls. I do think that has a big impact. The kind of environment around here in certain events has created that.”
In the 55 dash, Saucier comes in as the No. 1 seed (7.20 seconds) while in the shot put, East Haven’s Destiney Coward is the top seed (39-11). Amity’s Zoie Reed is second in the long jump (17-06.25), while Danae Rivers of Cross is second (4:55.52) in the 1,600.
It’s quite the impressive list to say the least.
“I think it’s a great thing for the SCC to have some really extraordinary athletes in almost every event,” Connell said. “I think that exciting for us.”
On the boys’ side, Fairfield Prep’s Christian Alvarado enters as the top seed in the 1,600 and second in the 3,200. Cheshire’s Liam Nicoll (300), Nick Griswold (high jump) and Ian Bergere (pole vault) are also in position to medal.
“The SCC has athletes that are going to place,” Cross head coach Travis Gale said.
For Gale and the Cross girls, they don’t know a ton about that 2004 team, the last from Cross to win the Open. But that’s OK.
Monday there is no pressure for the Governors, who own the fastest 4×400 (4:05.45) and 1,600 sprint medley (4:09.88) relay times.
“I kind of just want the girls to know it’s just another day in the office,” Gale said.
“Come in, do your work. The group we have this year is very special. I’m excited.”