OLD SAYBROOK >> The conditions – a flat course, a blue sky, and no humidity – seemed ideal for what Coginchaug senior Christian Alberico had in mind for Friday’s Shoreline Conference boys cross country championship race.
Yes, Alberico wanted to defend his title, which he won last year at H-K with a course record time of 16 minutes and 52.2 seconds. This year, however, he had his sights on a sub-16 minute finish.
And he got it.
Alberico blazed to his second straight SLC crown with a winning time of 15:58.9 at Old Saybrook High School. It was a personal best for Alberico, who seemed elated and stunned a few seconds after crossing the finish line.
“That (sub-16) was the goal, absolutely,” said Alberico. “It was second to winning it. It feels great to be able to prove that hard work pays off.”
Haddam-Killingworth junior Cameron Garrelts was the runner-up in 16:13.5. Morgan senior Brian Gendron was third (16:21.9), while Old Lyme senior Ross Golebiewski placed fourth (16:33.3).
As the defending champ, Alberico felt “more pressure than I think I’ve felt in a long time” and described the race as “just raw strength on raw strength.”
“I mean, it’s flat so you don’t get a lot of advantage with the hills,” Alberico said. “You have to have some smarts too. I kind of let Cam (Garrelts) control the race and he set a hard pace. This race was definitely a battle all the way to the end. Cam, Brian and Ross are all great runners.”
Haddam-Killingworth junior Maddie Brandon also had a target on her back.
Brandon was the Shoreline runnerup as a freshman two years ago and then won the title on her home course last season.
“Coming into this race I knew that there was going to be a lot more competition than last year,” said Brandon.
Still, Brandon defended her crown with a winning time of 19:08.5.
Coginchuag junior Samnantha Drop was the runner-up (19:20.2), while East Hampton junior Sydney Georgiades placed third (19:30.1).
Brandon’s strength lies in what she defined as “a longer faster kick” versus a “short kick” at the end. And it worked.
“You don’t have to lead the race in the beginning to lead the race in the end,” Brandon said. “I kind of just sit back and let the race play out. Sam (Drop) did awesome today too. She made me work my butt off quite a bit. I wanted another Shoreline win. It feels pretty good.”
Brandon made her winning move in the final 600 yards.
“Maddie ran a smart, tactical race,” said Haddam-Killingworth coach Matt Diglio. “She’s getting smarter and smarter as a racer. She’s going to try and go for three but we’ll get to that when we cross that bridge next year.”
The Coginchaug girls edged H-K, 64-71, to win their first SLC title since 2005. Old Saybrook was third (80), while Portland placed fourth (104).
“We knew we had a chance,” said Coginchaug coach Lavinia Vigue. “But we also knew that we were going to have to run strong. There are no givens because a lot of the teams in the conference have some strong people up front. I am very proud of the girls.”
Drops’ runner-up finish powered the Blue Devils, who also got all-league performances from sophomore Alexandra Alsup (12th, 20:17.4), freshman Aubrey Figoras (14th, 20;36.8), senior Bailey Thayer (16th, 20:40.7), and junior Samantha Vigue (20th, 20:53.5).
“It was close but they didn’t give up and they fought until the end,” said Vigue, now in her 12th season. “They care and they want to do well for the team it’s worked really well for them. I told them no matter what way it turned out that I was going to be happy with them just giving their all.”
The Haddam-Killingworth boys team lost to Old Lyme a year ago on the Cougars home course and H-K turned the tables on Friday, outdistancing the Wildcats, 41-84.
Cromwell finished third (128) behind senior Jared Darius (seventh, 16;48.2), sophomore Tom Barlow (11th, 16;59.0) led Hale Ray to a fourth place (149) finish, while Coginchaug was fifth (157).
“Last year was motivation for today,” said Diglio, who has guided the Cougars to five SLC titles in six seasons. “We had a little chip on our shoulder.”
Garrelts led a group of six H-K runners that earned all-league honors. The Cougars impressive win was fueled by senior Pat Fitzgibbons (sixth, 16:46.2), senior David Baird (ninth, 16:54.0), senior Gavin Manzi (10th, 16:55.0), senior Mike Rutledge (14th, 17:12.4), senior Robert Tischbein (20th, 17;45.7).
“We knew coming into the season we’d have a strong group with six of our top seven runners coming back,” Diglio added. “It took awhile to get going. We had some injuries and some kids sick. So just in the past week or two we started to put all the pieces together. The boys performed well today. We just want to keep getting better for states and the State Open down the road.”