Girls Cross Country
Arends qualifies for State Open; Centaurs place 8th
Woodstock Academy coach Joe Banas had two goals in mind for his cross-country team on Friday at Wickham Park in Manchester.
He wanted freshman Linsey Arends to qualify for the State Open and he was hopeful his team would finish in the top eight in the Class MM state championship.
Arends qualified for Friday's State Open with a 10th place finish and the Centaurs, as Banas had not only hoped but predicted, finished eighth.
"I'm happy," Banas said. "I saw a lot of our runners in the 22's (minutes). A couple of girls came up to me after and said I (had a personal best). That's what you want to hear. When we're getting personal bests, we're closing the gap."
The meet was held a day earlier on Friday because of the anticipated rainstorm on Saturday which would have turned the Wickham Park course into a muddy, unusable, if not, dangerous course.
The course was already a bit torn up because of the wet fall and the usage of it, but no one complained about conditions on Friday.
Banas had instructed his top two runners, Arends and Stella DiPippo, to go out slower.
He didn't want them to be chasing the likes of Kate Wiser from Pomperaug, whom he believes will win Friday's Open, and who won the MM race in 18 minutes, 32 seconds.
"I knew that she would take a lot of the front crowd with her. My plan was to have some of them come back to our team. They did what they were instructed to do," Banas said.
Near the halfway point of the race, Arends and DiPippo were around 20th place.
"Coach told me to go out a little slower so I could pick off people on the hills and that's what I tried to do. I got a little worried when I realized how far back I was so I turned it on," Arends said.
About three-quarters of the way through, Arends was in 11th.
"I told her to just 'hold her spot,'" Banas said.
At the finish line, Arends was worried.
"I was concerned because I didn't think I made it at first going up that last hill because I was passed by a couple of girls. I didn't know how far that bumped me back," Arends said.
Banas saw the stress level rise on his young runner as she knew she was close to being in the top 12, all of whom are automatic qualifiers for the State Open, but also knew that it was possible that she had not.
She was relieved to hear that, a few minutes after the finish, she had officially qualified for the State Open.
"That was one of my biggest goals all season," Arends said. "I really wanted to go and I'm so happy that I made it."
DiPippo finished 24th in 21:10 followed by Iris Bazinet (22:07) in 46th; Megan Gohn (22:28) in 54th; Alexia Bourbeau (22:48) 62nd; Shannon D'Alessandro (22:58) 64th and Julia Theriaque (23:12) in 71st.
"I've said it all year long, I believe this team is built for next year. Hopefully, we can pick up a few more pieces of the puzzle and put it together," Banas said.
But the season will continue for Arends and it has been a successful one.
Banas has already talked about working with Arends on her speed, so she will probably be doing some sprint work this week in preparation for Friday's race.
"That should help me quicken my pace so that I will have more (energy) to finish up with at the end instead of getting passed by a couple girls," Arends said.
Banas has mentioned the Manchester-to-Manchester possibility.
For Arends to qualify for the New England championship in Manchester, N.H. on Nov. 3, she has to finish in the top 25 on Friday in the Open which will again take place at Wickham Park.
Arends, DiPippo lead Centaurs to 2nd place finish; states next on Friday
Woodstock Academy girls cross-country coach Joe Banas has said all year long that his team is about a year away from being very competitive in the both the Eastern Connecticut Conference and in Class MM.
Last week, the Centaurs showed they may be even closer than that.
Woodstock Academy finished second in the ECC girls cross-country championship race Thursday at the Norwich Golf Course, losing out to only East Lyme, 57-83.
“We had two (Linsey Arends and Stella DiPippo) in the top five. Iris (Bazinet) ran well, Shannon (D’Alessandro) did her job,” Banas said. “My hat is off to (East Lyme coach) Mike (Flynn) and his team. He runs a nice program and all of his (runners) are coming back. We have to work between now and next year to close that gap.”
Arends and DiPippo were near the front the entire length of the 3.1 mile race.
Both, however, had to contend with a fast pace at the start.
Montville senior and defending champ, Mady Whittaker, bolted out in front of the pack at the beginning of the race, trying to sap the will of some of her younger competitors.
It meant Arends had to adjust her strategy.
She decided she had to stay in the hunt early, rather than hang back and save for the end.
“I wish I would have gone out a little slower, because I might have had more at the end to sprint up the last few hills. She definitely put the pressure on, turned the heat up, everyone wanted to stay up with her. She took off and everyone else wanted to take off after her,” Arends said.
DiPippo found the early pace to be a bit taxing.
“It was definitely tough the second the gun went off,” DiPippo said. “With all the hills that start out right away and when Mady went out super-fast, she brought everybody else with her. That made it really difficult from start to finish.”
Banas did have an accurate prediction.
He said he expected Whittaker might go out fast, but also expected her to possibly come back to the pack at the end.
The Montville senior did.
Arends stayed in second place until the final mile when fellow freshman, Jordan Malloy of Bacon Academy, passed her.
It was a battle that will likely be played out again many times over the next 3 ½ years.
“Probably, but I have Joe Banas as my coach and with him helping me, I can definitely beat her next time,” Arends said of Malloy.
Arends then was in the catbird seat to watch the battle between Whittaker and Malloy play out. Malloy saw her opportunity to pass the senior on the final incline of the race with about 600 meters left.
The Bacon Academy freshman completed the pass and took home what could have been considered the upset victory.
Arends remained in her spot, third place, in 20 minutes, 54 seconds.
“I’m pretty happy. I still think I could have done better. It definitely wasn’t my best race or my best time of the season, but it took a lot out of me and I think I did pretty good,” Arends said.
St. Bernard junior Brigid Kunka was able to pass DiPippo and the Woodstock Academy sophomore had to settle for fifth in 21:07.
“I ran faster than last year (when she finished third) which was my main goal this year. I was trying to beat (Kunka) at the end and go for fourth. I really thought I had her, but then she passed me again and I didn’t have any gas left. I’m happy with how I did,” DiPippo said.
Bazinet finished in 22nd with D’Alessandro in 26th and Megan Gohn 29th.
The Centaurs are back on the course on Friday when they travel to Manchester to take part in the Class MM state championship race at 3:40 p.m. on Friday at Wickham Park.
The Centaurs competed in the Class L state championship a year ago as they were three girls over the Class MM enrollment classification.
This year, they fell three girls under.
“To possibly make it into the State Open, it’s better to be in MM,” Banas said.
That’s from the competition side.
But there is an X-factor this year- the shape of the course.
Wickham Park and Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference officials normally allow teams to go to the course in the two weeks before to practice on it.
Due to the wetness of the grounds, that was disallowed this season.
The Centaurs will be running in the 12th, and final, race of the day on Friday.
“It’s beaten up and by the time our boys and girls race, there won’t be a ‘wild card’ of the 30 teams coming out of the “MM” race,” Banas said.
The top two teams in each division by points automatically qualify for the State Open championship with eight “Wild Card” teams determined by overall team time.
Banas wants to see both of his young runners, Arends and DiPippo, break the top 12 which would qualify them as individuals for the State Open.
“I don’t want to put pressure on a 13-year-old, but I would love to see Linsey make it to New England’s, “Banas said. “It would be Manchester (CT) to Manchester (NH).”
Arends would have to finish in the top 25 in the State Open to accomplish that feat.
“I feel confident about States. I’m not sure how I will do, but I’m definitely nervous and excited. I hope to do well,” Arends said.
Her personal goal is to break 20 minutes in the race.
Arends, DiPippo perform well at Wickham
Woodstock Academy girls cross-country coach Joe Banas made the tour of Wickham Park on Saturday, watching his two young runners, freshman Linsey Arends and sophomore Stella DiPippo compete in the Wickham Park Invitational in Manchester.
He didn’t have to go far to see one without seeing the other.
“I was catching them at various points and they were never more than four or five seconds apart from each other,” Banas said. “They always had contact. Stella could always see Linsey.”
The freshman made a nice late surge up the hill toward the finish line to cross first in 14th the girls seeded varsity race in 20 minutes, 54 seconds.
Six runners later, in 20th, came DiPippo just 13 seconds behind her teammate.
It was the first dual, but certainly not the last the two will have at Wickham Park which also happens to be the site of the state championship races on Oct. 27.
For Arends, it wasn’t the first time she ran the Wickham Park course.
Arends ran the course last year as an eighth grader, but it was only a 3K version of the course.
The course she ran on Saturday was almost double that, at the 5K high school length.
Banas said, even though there is only a 2K difference, it feels more like double what it is in middle school since it also adds another hill.
Arends was doing her best just to stay on the right course.
“Since it was shorter, I was a little discombobulated because we didn’t go the same way as we did in middle school,” Arends said.
Fortunately, unlike the Haddad Windham Invitational to start the season, Arends went the right way and didn’t make any wrong turns.
“I’m pretty happy with my time. I set one course record this year (at Rocky Neck State Park) and it was the same time-ish that I ran (Saturday). Hopefully, I can slowly improve,” Arends said.
She won’t be alone in that quest.
DiPippo and Arends both said they used each other to gauge how they were doing on Saturday.
“I didn’t know what the game plan was,” Arends admitted. “I used Stella to help pace me. We ran most of the way (together) and, at the end, I just tried to push it as fast as I could.”
DiPippo used a similar strategy and it worked for her as she bettered her time from last year’s Invitational when she finished 48th by 58 seconds and was 30 seconds better than she was when she placed 25th in the Class L state championship meet.
“I was really happy with my time,” DiPippo said. “I was using Linsey to pace me the whole race as I have been through most of the season. I gave her a thumbs up kind of midway through. It’s nice to have a true friend out there with you while you are racing. It makes running less painful.”
The two youngsters also had to contend with another Wickham delight- mud.
The wet summer and fall meant the footing wasn’t always the best.
“It was pretty tough,” DiPippo said. “You definitely had to pay attention and go certain ways where it was less muddy. It was definitely good to race with a lot of people, on this course, because you get a feel for how fast you have to start and how tight the race is at the beginning.”
Banas, meanwhile, was busy crunching numbers after the race.
He was comparing how his two runners times matched up to others they will face come the next big meet, the Eastern Connecticut Conference championship at the Norwich Golf Course on Oct. 18.
He liked what he saw.
Defending ECC champ, senior Mady Whittaker of Montville, ran in the unseeded varsity race on Saturday and finished in 21:02, eight seconds behind Arends and just five seconds better than DiPippo.
“They’re in the ballpark,” Banas said. “It’s a great 1-2 punch, the best 1-2 punch in the ECC. If there is a better one, I don’t know of it. If Stella was on any other team, outside of Montville, she would be the No. 1. She loves her role. They seem to work well together in training and they race well together.”
The team finished 16th as it was missing a key piece, senior Shannon D’Alessandro did not compete.
“We weren’t at full throttle because some of the girls had prior commitments that I knew about in advance. I told them ‘fine’ and gave them a speed workout to replace this,” Banas said.
Iris Bazinet was third for the Centaurs in 93rd with Megan Gohn (114th) and Aria Gianfriddo (142nd) rounding out the top five.