NORTH BRANFORD >> The Shoreline Conference cross country championship meet has always been one of the highlights of the fall season. And on an overcast day at Totoket Park, the teams and runners who compete in one of the state’s oldest leagues shone bright again.
Class SS champion Haddam-Killingworth captured its third straight SLC boys title behind a terrific first place run from junior Dan Schumann, while the Cougars girls team got a runner-up finish from junior Kelsey D’Amico en route to defending their crown Thursday in North Branford.
Almost upstaging H-K, however, was the mesmerizing performance from Hale Ray sophomore Emily Sienna, who won her first SLC championship with a blazing time of 18 minutes and 58.1 seconds.
“In my opinion, she’ll be a top five runner at the State Open,” Haddam-Killingworth coach Matt Diglio said.
Sienna, who was coming off an impressive fourth place run at last week’s Wickham Invitational, is having quite a season. She’s won the Blue Dragon, Portland, Coginchaug, Sheehan and Hale Ray invitational’s.
“She’s special, there’s no doubt,” Hale Ray coach Dave Kraszewski said. “She’s a girl who lives running. And she keeps getting stronger and better.”
When Sienna crossed the finish line on Thursday, there were no other runners in sight. D’Amico’s runner-up time (20:12.6) was over a minute behind Sienna, who led from start to finish buoyed by a great surge at the mile mark.
“I had a great start,” Sienna said. “I wanted to keep the lead the whole time and tried to separate on the down hills. I was very confident. I knew what the competition was and made a move to separate around the mile mark.”
Sienna placed 19th a year ago while battling an iron deficiency.
“She’s bounced back and has taken some iron supplements and watches what she eats,” Kraszewski said. “She’s had a great summer training. She’s had a great season and our goal for her is, ideally, qualifying for the Open and New England’s and hopefully get a Top 25 in New England.”
The H-K girls outdistanced runner-up Coginchaug, 38-69. Old Saybrook placed third with 71 points, Old Lyme was fourth (100), while Hale Ray placed fifth (152) out of 10 teams.
“We lost four girls to graduation last year and started off this season with some injuries and over the past month or so the girls have really come together,” Diglio said. “They ran a fantastic race today, from one all the way to seven they really stepped up.”
Besides D’Amico, the Cougars were led by junior Lexie Bouthillier (third, 20:19.8), senior Lizzy Early (eighth, 20:49.1), sophomore Emma Anziano (13th, 20:59.6), and junior Julie Kelley (14th, 21:00.9). Also competing for H-K were juniors Grace Lindell (26th, 22:24.8) and Maggie Fisher (29th, 22:33.1).
Schumann’s championship run on the boys side, which helped H-K win its fifth league crown in six years, might have surprised some. But not Diglio.
“Dan and Andrew (Meredith) have been kind of back and forth all season long,” Diglio said. “He just had a terrific day today. It’s a real strong conference up front.”
Schumann edged Coginchaug sophomore Peter Schulten (16:38.5), while H-K junior Andrew Meredith ran third in 16:41.4.
“I knew a couple of guys on our team had a chance to win, as well as a few of the other guys that were up there,” said Schumann, who placed third in this race a year ago. “We were just trying to get the win for H-K.”
Schumann’s strategy was to stay close and not lose contact with the first wave of runners.
“I wanted to stay in the front this time,” he added. “I’m very happy. About halfway I really pushed the pace. I felt good so I thought I could get it done.”
H-K topped runner-up Old Saybrook, 34-65. Hale Ray placed third (119), Coginchaug was fourth (121), while Old Lyme finished fifth (132) out of 12 teams.
The Cougars also got All-SLC performances from junior Jonah Spector (fifth, 17:24.5), senior Noah Miller (11th, 18:07.9), senior Doug Brown (14th, 18:21.1), junior Conor McCabe (16th, 18:31.4), and sophomore Kyle Criscuolo (19th, 18:42.2).
“We’re happy with the win,” Diglio added. “Hopefully, we’ll get better and healthy from here. We preach to the kids that it’s about the team. Individual accolades are nice but it’s about the team and doing your job. And they did that today, especially on the girls side. They raced for each other.”
The Top 10 finishers in each race earned First Team All-SLC honors. For the boys, it included Old Saybrook sophomore Shane Henderson (fourth, 17:16.7), Hale Ray junior Thomas Barlow (sixth, 17:31.7), Cromwell senior Alec Drzewiecki (seventh, 17:58.6), Old Saybrook senior Dan Baldi (eighth, 18;03.3), Old Lyme sophomore Nick Myers (ninth, 18:03.3), and Coginchaug junior Danny Turecek (10th, 18:06.6).
The All-SLC girls first team also included Old Saybrook senior Jael Givehand (fourth, 20:29.7), Coginchaug junior Allie Alsup (fifth, 20:34.0), Coginchaug sophomore Ashley Dana (sixth, 20:39.6), Valley Regional junior Addie Byars (seventh, 20:46.8), Morgan junior Kate Daley (ninth, 20:50.1), and Old Saybrook freshman Grace Hanratty (10th, 20:55.3).