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ECC Championship: Centaurs, Menounos finish 4th

Stonington senior Ryan Gruczka took off from the starting gun at the Eastern Connecticut Conference boys cross-country championship Thursday at the Norwich Golf Course.

Woodstock Academy sophomore Christian Menounos was one of those trying to catch up to him.

“Christian has some good friends on other teams and they were all talking about how fast the Stonington kid went out. They all thought they could reel him in and he just never came back,” Centaurs coach Peter Lusa said.

Gruczka finished in 16 minutes, 39 seconds.

That was 12 seconds better than fellow senior Brendan Fant of East Lyme. Vikings junior Sean McCauley in third and Menounos in fourth finished within five seconds of Fant with Menounos getting across the line in 16:56.

“I anticipated that (Gruczka) was going to be strong. He had a really good time at (the) Wickham (Park Invitational). We all kind of went out a little easier and let him go away, see if we could kick it at the end to try and reel him in but it was just too late,” Menounos said.

Overall, Menounos was happy with his fourth-place finish.

“My goal was to get into the top five and keeping working hard. Next year, I can go for the top because two of the three kids ahead of me were seniors,” Menounos said. “I was feeling good aerobically. My legs were a little iffy but overall, I was feeling pretty good.”

But Menounos did identify quickly where he needed to improve.

He wants to work on his leg strength to give him even more of a kick for that final 800-meter stretch run which is so crucial.

“I beat 17 minutes on one of the hardest courses in Connecticut, I am happy with that,” Menounos beamed.

And that was coming off a stretch where the Centaurs had to compete at the Wickham Park Invite, hosted Norwich Free Academy and went to Fitch as well as the ECC championship all in under a two-week span.

“That was tough,” Lusa said. “We’ve been nursing them, told them to go easy. I don’t know if they were going easy 24 hours a day but they don’t realize it because they are young and invincible. They think they can do anything, but that probably had a lot to do with some of these kids being tapped out.”

Vince Bastura admitted he just made it to the finish line.

The senior finished in seventh place in 17:30.

“I was thinking more like top five,” Bastura said.

But he did have to overcome some personal demons that may have limited his performance a bit.

“This whole season I have been having trouble sleeping so I haven’t been able to recover as well. I’ve been dealing with over-training symptoms especially with courses with a lot of hills, I feel it a lot more. I pretty much raced this course going fast on the downhills and where it was flat but it was really hard going uphill. If this race was like a tenth of a mile longer, I don’t think I would have made it," Bastura said.

Lusa said the senior just gave it everything he had and he was happy to see his runner’s progression, both on and off the course, over his time with the program.

“The growth from his freshman year to now even personality-wise, he’s so much more outgoing and confident. He’s shouting back-and-forth with his teammates whereas in his freshman and sophomore years, he was just this quiet kid who didn’t say anything. He just ran and looked perfect while running. He got stronger and stronger over time,” the Woodstock Academy coach said.

Colton Sallum finished 16th for the Centaurs with Charles Cagiano in 29th and Joel Koleszar in 39th.

That left the Centaurs as the fourth-place finishers as a team.

East Lyme finished with 48 points followed by Griswold (84), Norwich Free Academy (89) and then the Centaurs (94).

“Overall, I’m happy. Third in the Division I is where I expected us to be. The ECC is strong for boys so this is good,” Lusa said.

The season is not over yet.

The Centaurs and every other cross-country team head to the state championships next Saturday. The Woodstock Academy boys will compete in the last race of the day at Wickham Park in Manchester, the Class MM championship at 3:50 p.m.

Menounos is looking forward to the state championship meet, in part, because he loves the Wickham Park course, its scenery, and the ending hill known affectionately as “the green monster” by runners.

“I think (the ECC championship) was a confidence booster going into States. I just need a little rest and a little bit of speed and I will be ready,” Menounos said with a smile.