WESTPORT – Head coach Amanda Parrish still remembers her high school cross country days at Staples High School. Parrish was a runner on the 1997-98 Wreckers squad that won the FCIAC Cross Country Girls Championship title.
Now 16 years later, Parrish is leading the next great pack of runners at her alma mater. She has a lineup of eccentric, talented and competitive girls that appear to be on the path as the next great Staples cross country team.
This past week the Wreckers not only solidified themselves as a top tier team in the FCIAC but the state. Last weekend, Staples took second place at the 33rd Stratton Brook Cross Country Invitational, finishing just nine points behind powerhouse Glastonbury, the No. 1 ranked team in the state. The Wreckers ran without their No. 4 girl and beat a strong Simsbury squad.
A few days later, the team followed up the performance by defeating No. 2 ranked Ridgefield in a dual meet that featured then undefeated Fairfield Warde.
“I think we are really hoping we can be one of the best teams in the state,” junior Erica Hefnawy said. “We worked really hard. I was really happy with the results. I think we have the potential to place and be there at the end of the season.”
After not qualifying for the State Open as a team a year ago, it’s been quite the turnaround for a young but dangerous squad. Led by All-American Hannah DeBalsi, the sophomore has provided the Wreckers with an almost guarantee first place finish every race. She is four for four this season in breaking course/meet records and recently defeated Warde’s Cate Allen on Tuesday, who is the reigning FCIAC champ. DeBalsi’s winning time was 15:23.
But what might be even more impressive is how the rest of the team has responded and developed this fall.
Known more for her abilities on the track as an 800 meter runner, Hefnawy has emerged as Staples No. 2 runner. She clocked an impressive time of 19:37.47 at the Brook Invitational placing fourth, finishing ahead of Glastonbury’s top runner.
“The distance part of everything has really taken a different turn on me and I’ve enjoyed it,” she said. “I’ve been working a lot and the team really works hard to do our best.”
Behind DeBalsi and Hefnawy is Elisabeth French running in the third spot. Part of last Tuesday’s goal for the team was to have the remaining top seven runners try and bridge the gap and get closer to French in time.
“You race with who you train,” Hefnawy said.
Staples’ top seven runners placed in the top 15, while senior Caroline Koenig placed 20th.
“They ran really well,” Parrish said of her team.
In the latest Cross Country Coaches Poll, Staples was ranked as the sixth-best team. While Hefnawy admitted she’s one to check times and rankings daily, she knows as the end of the day the squad isn’t defined by that.
“It doesn’t really matter on paper,” she said. “We know who we are.”