Aspiras places 46th in State Open
Woodstock Academy junior Ethan Aspiras was the only Centaur boys runner to qualify for the State Open cross-country championship meet Friday at Wickham Park in Manchester and had outside hopes of making the New England championship by placing in the top 25.
Aspiras was running in his first-ever State Open race.
He finished in 46th.
He wasn't disappointed.
“I was just going for time,” Aspiras said. “I got 17:05 and on a day like (Friday) where there were mud pits and 40 miles per hour wind, it was brutal. But I think I still did well just based on my time.”
Aspiras was locked back in the 80s early in the race but gradually worked his way through the pack.
“It was very hard in the narrow spots to find a place to go past people. It was a struggle,” Aspiras said.
The Woodstock Academy coaching staff, based on prior times, had predicted Aspiras might break the top 40, coming in around 39th. His actual finish was not all that far off.
“He ran the kind of race that we expected him to run. There’s always that tug between running hard from beginning to end and possibly burning out, and holding back a little bit at parts of the race so that you can finish strong. I feel he did a little bit of both (Friday),” Woodstock Academy boys cross-country coach Peter Lusa said.
Aspiras, the Eastern Connecticut Conference champ, was the third finisher from the league in the race. East Lyme sophomore Luke Anthony finished 38th and Griswold freshman Michael Strain was 42nd.
“I was trying to hunt them down the whole time, but they were also trying their hardest so when two people are going at it, only one can win,” Aspiras said.
No runner from the ECC qualified for the New England championship.
“”I definitely have some progress to make, but after seeing how this season went, I have no doubt that I want to do better, maybe top 25 next year,” Aspiras said.
Lusa said the big challenge for Aspiras may be taking on the one person who can hold him back and that is himself.
“His goals for next season will include lowering his time possibly to the lower 16-minute range,” the Woodstock Academy coach said. “I would like him to experience leaving it all out on the course, just to see how that turns out. That might be an experience he needs to have to know how much he has in the tank.”
State Open on tap for 3 Centaur runners
Three Woodstock Academy athletes will be in the field on Friday when the State Open cross-country meet is held at Wickham Park in Manchester.
The girls are scheduled to run at 2 p.m., the boys at 2:45 p.m.
It will be a first for juniors Ethan Aspiras and Stella DiPippo.
Sophomore Linsey Arends is making her second appearance.
Arends finished 61st at the Open last year in 20 minutes, 59 seconds.
“I know what to expect now,” Arends said. “I know everyone is going to be really fast and I know that I’m not going to finish first. That’s OK. I can just go out and do my best and if I quicken it up a little, I could be punching my ticket to New Englands.”
The top 25 finishers among the boys and girls qualify for the New England championship where Connecticut runners will have a little advantage this year. The races are scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 9 at Wickham Park.
“I’m somewhat hopeful. I think Linsey and Ethan, if things play out well, both have a decent shot (of making it to the New England championship). Everything will have to fall into place for Stella, but I will never say never,” Woodstock Academy cross-country coach Joe Banas said.
Arends advanced by finishing second in the Class MM state championship this past Saturday also at Wickham Park.
She finished in 20:14.
“I felt great about my place, not so much about my time, I’m hoping I can come in a little quicker. I think I had a really great race, had a great strategy going in and felt very accomplished coming in second place,” Arends said.
Arends said she realizes she will have to drop about 10-15 seconds Friday to have a realistic chance to make the New Englands.
“My only goal really was to make it to the State Open and to the (All-State) banquet and finish in the top eight. Going to New England’s, I haven’t really thought about until now and I would really like to go. It’s a big goal for me now and for next year. Now, it’s all I want and if I make it, I will be ecstatic,” Arends said.
All three Woodstock Academy runners earned All-State honors with their finishes kast weekend.
DiPippo had one thing in mind coming into last week’s Class MM championship race.
Do better than last year.
She finished 24th in 2018 and was disappointed.
She easily reached that goal with a seventh-place finish last weekend.
“I was really happy with that finish especially with how I moved up during the race. I started slower than I have in previous years so I kept passing people instead of getting passed,” DiPippo said.
She bettered her time by almost 30 seconds, coming home in 20:42.
She knows she will have to do much better than that to finish in the top 25 Friday.
Her time was about 70th fastest last week.
“I definitely plan to go out slower, try to run a similar race as last time and try to push a little harder over the last two miles,” DiPippo said. “Getting to the top 25 is not really my goal. It would be great, but it’s not really possible right now. I’m just trying to get the best time I can.”
Aspiras has had two great weeks in a row.
Two weeks ago, he won the Eastern Connecticut Conference championship.
Last week, he finished fourth in the Class MM state championship.
He wouldn’t mind making it three great weeks in a row by qualifying for the New England championship.
“It would be very cool to get into the top 25 and qualify, but it was never a goal. My real goal was to get into (the State Open). I’m just happy to be here. I think I just want to get a new personal best and if it happens that I’m in the top 25, that’s great, but I’m not going in aiming for that,” Aspiras said.
In other words, a New England berth would be gravy.
“If it doesn’t happen, there is always next year. It’s great to get this experience and see how much you need to try and get into these higher races. It doesn’t get any easier,” Aspiras said.
Aspiras surprised himself a bit in the state championship race.
He finished 30th in 2018.
“The tables have turned,” Aspiras said. “At the beginning of the season, I didn’t think I would do this well. It’s all because of running in the summer. You have to do that. This is the reward that you get out of it.”
Aspiras wins ECC champiopnship; qualifies for State Open
Woodstock Academy junior Ethan Asipras walked through the finish line, spoke for a moment with former teammate Kenneth Birlin, and then got down on the ground and did a flurry of push-ups and sit-ups.
It was hard to tell that he had just run 3.1 miles and, more importantly, won the Eastern Connecticut Conference individual boys cross-country championship early last week at Norwich Golf Course.
“It’s a real intimidation factor,” Aspiras said with a smile. “I do that in every single race and people look at me like I’m crazy.”
He likes them to think that.
Aspiras was crazy good early last week.
He defeated East Lyme sophomore Luke Anthony by one second, coming home in 17 minutes, 13 seconds,
Aspiras followed his normal strategy early on in the race.
He was mired back around 20th place in the first half-mile of the race, saving up his energy for that final push.
“They are really getting into this negative split (completing the second half of a race faster than the first half), it might not be (based on) time, but instead on effort because it’s hard to base it on the hills,” said Centaurs cross-country coach Joe Banas. “He had the discipline to hold back when others went out.”
With about a third of the race left, Aspiras made his move and took over first from Anthony.
“I was feeling pretty good at that point. I didn’t know what the other kid’s kick potential was but I felt really good because Ethan was sort of bounding along. You can settle in, go at someone else’s pace and mentally go on vacation and just let your body do it. Then, when you come back in with focus, you can take off. That’s what he did,” Centaurs coach Peter Lusa said.
But Anthony wasn’t done yet.
He passed Aspiras with about a 1,000 meters to go.
Aspiras wasn’t about to let a first-place finish escape his grasp.
He answered the kick and never let Anthony back ahead again.
He cruised across the finish line.
“There’s nothing else like a good race, that’s why I love this sport. It felt so empowering,” Aspiras said.
It didn’t come naturally.
Aspiras has had to work for it.
This past offseason, he worked harder than ever.
“This was the first summer I ran consistently every day. I never had done that before. I’m more serious now and when you get serious, you get better.”
Still, he didn’t think even all that work would give him an ECC championship.
“I was thinking top 10,” Aspiras said. “I didn’t think I was anywhere close to first place. But good things happen when you put in the work.”
The Centaurs placed seventh as a team with Hamilton Barnes coming home in 24th.
Aspiras places 4th
Aspiras followed up the championship effort with an equally good performance on Saturday at the Class MM state championship meet at Wickham Park in Manchester,
Aspiras bettered his time by 24 seconds from the ECC championship, finishing in 16:49, and placed fourth.
The effort was good enough to net him All-State honors and a spot in the CIAC State Open cross-country championship on Friday also at Wickham Park.
“It was awesome. He did his typical race, started off slow, and picked people off.” Banas said.
Lusa said Aspiras’ ascension was something he could sense.
Aspiras just had to work to unlock it.
“It’s been lurking. I don’t know if the past two summers he had the opportunity to train the way he was able to last summer. He trained with a pretty good college runner from LaSalle in Rhode Island and knew where he needed to be by the end of the summer. He came in super-strong,” Lusa said.
Barnes tried to keep up with Aspiras early on in the season but the sophomore also plays baseball and, even worse, is a catcher.
“He was squatting behind home plate so his legs needed to lengthen and stretch out a little,” Lusa said.
Barnes finished 42nd (18:21); senior Evan Gianfriddo was 88th (19:21); freshman Vince Bastura (19:24) placed 90th; freshman Maxwell Auker (19:41) was 104th and freshman Adam Thompson (20:00) was 110.
The team finished 13th overall.
Eastern Connecticut Conference member East Lyme was the Class MM champ for a third consecutive time.
Aspiras finishes 2nd in Centaurs loss
The Woodstock Academy boys cross-country team lost to the East Lyme Vikings at Rocky Neck State Park on Friday, 19-44.
Junior Ethan Aspiras put together a strong effort for the Centaurs (3-6, 0-3 Eastern Connecticut Conference Division I) with a second-place finish, just six seconds back of winner Chris Abbey (16:59) for East Lyme (6-0, 3-0).
“Ethan ran a good race,” Woodstock Academy coach Peter Lusa said. “He was a bit slow at the one-mile mark and was outkicked over the last half-mile. But I think he’s looking forward to a good effort at the (Eastern Connecticut Conference) championship.”
The ECC championship will take place at 1:35 p.m. on Thursday at the Norwich Golf Course.
Hamilton Barnes finished 11th for Woodstock Academy and Evan Gianfriddo placed 13th.
Two more firsts for Aspiras
Woodstock Academy junior Ethan Aspiras has made finishing first overall in a race more of a common event this season.
He did so twice this past week.
The junior finished first in 17 minutes, 18 seconds in Auburn, MA. to lead the Centaurs past the Rockets, 21-40, and raise Woodstock Academy’s record to 3-5.
Aspiras was also pretty dominant early in the week when he finished in the same exact time to place first at Haley Farm State Park in Groton.
Unfortunately in that case, the individual effort did not produce a win for the team.
The Centaurs fell to both host Fitch High School, 21-37, and Bacon Academy, 22-33, to fall to 0-2 in Division I of the ECC.
“It helps me realize how far I’ve come,” Aspiras said. “(Tuesday) was our third meet against other (Eastern Connecticut Conference) schools and my second first-place which I think is pretty cool and I can’t believe I’m doing it. It makes me also realize that just because I’m getting these first-place finishes doesn’t mean I will do great in the championship race. It makes me focus more on the time than the place.”
On Friday, the Centaurs were able to finally get some help for Aspiras.
Hamilton Barnes placed second and, after two Auburn runners crossed the finish line, Vince Bastura, Adam Thompson and Tristan Monahan finished fifth, sixth and seventh.
“The boys team has a lot of catching up to do but what I really like that I’ve been seeing at meets, lately, is that, at least, three people do a personal best every race. That’s great. I love to see people get better at each meet because it means there is progress. That’s the way you get better,” Aspiras said.
In Groton, Aspiras’ time was almost a minute better than Fitch runner Simon Chidley who finished in 18:08. Ryan Moores of Bacon Academy was next, eight seconds back of the Falcons runner.
Barnes was second across the line for the Centaurs in the race in 19 minutes flat.
Bastura placed 14th overall, Evan Gianfriddo 15th and Max Auker was 16th.
“I won by a minute?,” Aspiras questioned. “I didn’t even know it was that far. In the first mile, they were behind me. I put a lot of distance between them and me after that, but I didn’t know I was that far ahead.”
Woodstock Academy boys coach Peter Lusa said the success has given Aspiras a little boost this season and the coach liked what he saw in Groton.
“He looked strong. He looked healthy. He wasn’t struggling. It was nice to see. The other guys were chasing him, they were running hard, but they couldn’t catch him,” Lusa said.
With time being more the concern than place, however, Aspiras felt he could have done better.
He finished in 16:49 in the only home meet of the season and 17:01 in the Ocean State Invitational last Saturday in Warwick, R.I.
He wasn’t totally happy with the effort in Rhode Island.
“I really died out after the first mile and didn’t feel that strong,” Aspiras said. “The whole beginning of the course, everybody goes way too fast, because it’s just so crowded.”
Lusa knows Aspiras wants to improve and better his personal best, but there are a lot of factors that come into play.
“The course matters, the temperature matters and so does our training cycle,” Lusa said.
Time is also running short.
The Centaurs have their final regular season meet on Thursday at East Lyme.
The Eastern Connecticut Conference championship at the Norwich Golf Course follows on Oct. 17 and then the state championship meet on Oct. 26.
Aspiras finishes 1st; Centaurs fall
The individual parts may matter more than the collective in boys cross-country this season.
The Centaurs fell to 2-3 overall and 0-1 in Division I of the Eastern Connecticut Conference by falling to both Norwich Free Academy 20-42 and Ledyard 23-38.
But that didn’t faze Ethan Aspiras.
The Woodstock Academy junior raced across the Stonebridge Road course finish line in his only home meet of the season in 16 minutes, 49 seconds.
That was 38 seconds better than second-place finisher, Payton Ramsey, of NFA.
Aspiras knew he had the advantage coming in.
His times were 25 seconds better than any of the top NFA or Ledyard runners.
But he was taking no chances.
“I was going out fast. I wanted to get in front of all of them right away because in the race before, I didn’t get out in front and finished second,” Aspiras said.
Behind him was a pack of NFA runners, not that he was paying attention.
“I made myself not turn around. One rule of running is to never look back because in that one second of turning back, the runner behind can pass you. All I knew was that there was an army behind me. I had to keep going forward,” Aspiras said.
Coach Peter Lusa was pretty happy with the junior’s performance.
“It was awesome seeing Ethan finishing out in front, and by such a large margin. He has worked very hard to be where he is this season and it nice to see that hard work paying off. I am excited to see how the ECC championship and the state meets shake out and where he ultimately finishes in those meets,” Lusa said.
Hamilton Barnes finished 10th overall with Vince Bastura in 19th and Evan Gianfriddo 20th.
“The team is coming along. We are blessed to have athletes that work hard at practice. Our team has a good chemistry and it is paying dividends in the overall improvement of our athlete’s performances,” Lusa said.
The next meet for the Centaurs is the Ocean State Invitational in Warwick, R.I. on Sept. 28.
“The Ocean State Invite is really fun for me. There is not a lot of big hills. It’s mostly flat so I’m just looking for another personal best on that course,” Aspiras said.
Centaurs take 2 of 3
The sweep was not to be there for the Woodstock Academy boys cross-country team.
The Centaurs defeated Wheeler and Killingly by the same score, 15-50, Tuesday as neither the Redmen or Lions had the required five runners.
Waterford, however, posted a 23-48 win over Woodstock Academy at Owen Bell Park in Dayville.
“I expected (Waterford) to be pretty good. It was good that it was there because it gave us a true test,” said Centaurs boys coach Peter Lusa.
The presence of the Lancers also gave junior Ethan Aspiras someone to chase.
He just couldn’t catch Aiden Pepin.
Lusa said it led to a pretty good conversation piece between he and his runner.
The Waterford runner was 20 seconds ahead of Aspiras at the mile and two-mile splits and Aspiras finished 31 seconds behind Pepin at the line.
“Once he got up to a certain speed, Ethan matched it. It was the difference at the start,” Lusa said.
The slower start worked for Aspiras at the season-opening Haddad Windham Invitational just three days before.
It backfired this time.
Of course, catching Pepin would have been difficult any way.
His final time of 16 minutes, 46 seconds was a record for the Owen Bell course.
Woodstock Academy girls coach Joe Banas coached at Killingly before coming to the Centaurs and was impressed by Pepin.
“That was a spectacular run and he buried the course record. He will be someone in the ECC race that will have to be reckoned with,” Banas said.
Lusa was happy with who came in third overall.
Woodstock Academy sophomore Hamilton Barnes placed third in 19:10.
“He’s doing well and is coming into his own. He didn’t do a lot of summer running so I should see him get better throughout the season so long as we keep him healthy. It will be fun to see him improve,” Lusa said.
Lusa was also happy with the performance of senior captain Evan Gianfriddo who came in third for the Centaurs and 11th overall in 19:50.
Fellow senior captain Tristan Monahan was 30 seconds behind Gianfriddo and fourth-best for the Centaurs.
“My goal for the year is just to beat Evan,” Monahan said. “I’m kind of at his level right now but just seem to be a little off.”
Sophomore Hans Rhynhart and junior Aaron Allard were fourth and fifth for the Centaurs.
Woodstock Academy will host its only home meet on Tuesday against Norwich Free Academy and Ledyard at the Stonebridge Road (behind the Woodstock Fairgrounds) course.
Monahan said it’s nice that it will be a home meet, but it won’t be easy.
“It’s very challenging. I don’t know if I can say that I like it but it’s good if you want to challenge your running ability,” Monahan said.
The Stonebridge course is true cross-country, consisting of gravel, grass and one other necessity.
“It’s not flat,” Monahan said with a smile. “There are a lot of hills. You run in the sun and the grass.”
Aspiras places 6th at Windham
The Woodstock Academy boys cross-country team opened its season with the annual pilgrimmage to the Haddad Windham cross-country Invitational at Windham High School Saturday.
A little strategy benefitted Ethan Aspiras.
The junior looked like he was mired in the middle of the pack early in the race, but it was all part of a plan that he executed pretty well.
He crossed the finish line in sixth place.
“I’m very happy with Ethan. He set goals for himself and I think he’s going to achieve them. This was the first step in the whole thing,” Woodstock Academy boys cross-country coach Peter Lusa said.
The Centaurs coaching staff has been working on its runners mentality a little bit when it comes to running hills.
“You guys are good at hills, other people are not so good at hills and that’s a place where you can take people,” Lusa said.
Aspiras put that theory into practice at Windham.
About a mile into the race, there exists a 600-meter hill.
Aspiras learned from last year when the hill killed his effort.
He conserved his energy, holding back and running in a pack back around the 40-50th place group.
“I knew that not all these people are going to be running up this hill at a 5:30 pace. I purposely slowed down and it was one of the most exciting things I’ve ever done in a race. I passed probably 20-plus runners on just one hill. That’s a record for me,” Aspiras said.
Her finished in 17:23.
Not only was he happy with his effort on the hill, the time was pretty noteworthy as well.
“I surprised myself when I looked at my watch in the last 800 meters and knew I could beat my personal best of 17:49. When I saw the clock at 17:23, that makes me happy,” Aspiras said.
It was tempered a bit by the fact that it was only a 3-mile race and not a 3.1.
“It was a confidence booster for him” Lusa said.
The Centaurs boys coach would have liked to see the gap between Aspiras and the Centaurs second-best finisher, Hamilton Barnes, be a little smaller.
Barnes finished in 62nd place, just about two minutes behind Aspiras.
“Hamilton has some lofty goals but didn’t run as much as he needed to this summer. He knows that. He spent a lot of timed playing baseball and being a catcher in that squat position. It’s hard to stretch those legs out,” Lusa said.
A little further back in 80th and 81st places were two of the team captains, Evan Gianfriddo and Tristan Monahan and Hans Rhynhart finished out the scoring five for the Centaurs in 88th place.
“I’m very happy with where they are. I wish the gap wasn’t as large, but I don’t think they were where Ethan was at the end of the summer,” Lusa said.
Centaurs boys cross-country hoping to improve
The Woodstock Academy girls cross-country team is looking to compete for an Eastern Connecticut Conference championship this season.
The boys may not be in that same position quite yet.
But can the potential success of the girls team rub off on the boys squad?
“Absolutely,” said Centaurs boys cross-country coach Peter Lusa who enters his 11th year at the helm of the program. “Now, having taught (at Killingly High School) when Meghan Owen ran, it didn’t rub off so much on the boys there, in fact, it didn’t even rub off on her (girls) team. She was like a solo runner. There is some rub off, though. The girls pay attention to the directions and they tell the boys and the boys pay attention to them. It leads to a more cohesive team and I’m really pleased with how it’s working here. It’s something I’ve tried to do for several seasons, get the two teams working together.”
Junior captain Ethan Aspiras agreed.
“The girls’ success can help us because we’ve watched them progress. They are a completely different team than my first year here. Seeing that change and how a team can become successful can, hopefully, influence us to also progress and in years to come also be much better,” Aspiras said.
The Centaurs did compete in Division 1 of the ECC last year for a first time in a while and found out how difficult it was.
The Centaurs finished 6-8 overall, but were 0-6 in the Division.
Lusa doesn’t expect it will be much easier this season.
“(Coach) Chad Johnson is not at (Norwich Free Academy), we will see how that shakes out. I know they have another coach who has just moved over, but they have been slackening a little bit. The East Lyme boys (ECC and Class MM state champions last year) will be good again. I think it will be a good season. We will see how we do in our opener against Waterford, The Lancers are still looking pretty good,” Lusa said.
That first meet with Waterford, Killingly and Wheeler will take place on Tuesday, Sept. 10 at Owen Bell Park in Dayville.
Before that, the Centaurs will participate in the season-opening event for most, the 41st annual Haddad Windham Invitational at Windham High School, this Saturday.
“It’s a lot of tar. It’s also three miles and not 3.1 so the times are a bit faster. Some run in the freshmen or JV races so teams don’t run together as a pack. There may be kids separated by races who are not running with who they are used to running with, that can be both good and bad. It’s a good shake-out meet. No high expectations. If they run a little faster and times are a little better, that just gets it in their head that they can run these times and when they go to 3.1 miles with hills, and soft gravel, and they do it again, we can talk about doing better on harder courses,” Lusa said.
The Centaurs did lose a little of their glue when Kenneth Birlin graduated.
They also lost Noah Pepper, Holden Pimental, and Spencer Collins.
But Lusa has been pleased with the turnout.
“You always want more, but we have a good smattering of (athletes from) all the grades so it bodes well for the future,” Lusa said.
The leader of the pack will be Aspiras.
Some of that progress Aspiras talked about, he has begun to see happen.
“I’ve been telling my friends, I can’t believe we’re juniors already. It seems like yesterday that I came to this track for the first cross-country practice,” Aspiras said. “The team has been getting better and better since I first came. It’s great to see that.”
But progress in cross-country doesn’t come without work, especially in the summer.
Aspiras said he put in 405 miles during the offseason.
It wasn’t quite what he wanted to reach.
His goal was 450.
“But, it’s a lot better than last year,” Aspiras said with a smile.
Aspiras finished 21st in the ECC championship race (18 minutes, 35 seconds) and 30th in the Class MM state meet (17:57) in 2018.
“I am definitely looking forward to finish in the top-10 in the ECC and definitely want to qualify for the State Open championship,” Aspiras said.
Lusa is confident that Aspiras can reach his goals this season.
“I have to hold him back a little (early) and then let him go when it’s time,” Lusa said. “Coach (Josh) Welch and Coach (Joe) Banas are keyed in with that. I’m taking more of an administrative role, getting all that stuff done and they’re in charge of dialing in workouts.”
Aspiras will be joined in the captain’s role by seniors Evan Gianfriddo and Tristan Monahan.
“Tristan went away to running camp this year,” Lusa said. “He came back asking me all these questions like ‘Is this why you made us do all these workouts? The coach there was saying these are great’ It was awesome to have him ask, ‘What do I do if this happens?’ Other summers, it was just crickets and I was like ‘Tristan, are you out there?’
Other key runners include junior Cody Currie and sophomore Hamilton Barnes.
“(Hamilton) is the person right behind me right now. Hamilton has been following my times as a sophomore so that’s pretty good to see that happen, having a younger person following what you have been doing and, hopefully, maybe even do better than I did in past years,” Aspiras said.
Other returning members of the team include senior Ben Green, junior John Peabody, and sophomores Hans Rhynhart and Noah Salsich.
The newcomers include juniors Pablo Lopez, Avery Pajak, Thomas Walden, Aaron Allard, Maxwell Auker, Vince Bastura, Lance LaFemina, Adam Thompson and Jacob Vadeboncoeur.
The cross-country teams also had a little advantage.
They were allowed to practice a week earlier than the other programs such as soccer, field hockey and volleyball.
Football was the only other team practicing prior to last Thursday.
It was something that Lusa didn’t even realize.
“I didn’t think of that,” he said with a laugh. “I asked someone and they said everyone had started already. It does feel nice. We didn’t have to battle for (space on the) buses.”