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Class MM state championship: Menounos finishes 5th

Woodstock Academy coach Peter Lusa had just finished giving his team their two-mile splits and was hustling back toward the finish line when he heard the announcer began to rattle off the names of finishers as they crossed the line.

“All of a sudden, I started hearing them announce the first, second, third and fourth-place finishers and then I heard,’ fifth-place from Woodstock Academy’ and I was, ‘Wait, what?’ I was still in the woods about 200 yards from the finish line,” Lusa described.

Centaurs’ sophomore Christian Menounos had beaten his coach to the line and also finished ahead of most of the field in the Class MM state championship meet Saturday at Wickham Park in Manchester.

Lusa would have been happy just to see his young runner finish in the top 12 and qualify for the State Open on Friday, also at Wickham Park. Instead, Menounos put together a sparkling effort to finish fifth overall in 16 minutes, 44 seconds.

Lusa wasn’t sure what Menounos was going to do prior to the meet.

“Our fear with him was that he was too focused. He was a little hyper. The kids were telling him to calm down but he was trying to get everyone pumped up and was really working it. I told hm to relax a little and let it happen,” Lusa said.

The Woodstock Academy runner had his eyes set on Brendan Fant of East Lyme who had finished second, just two better than Menounos, in the Eastern Connecticut Conference championship meet the week before.

He got his man.

He finished two places ahead of the Vikings’ senior.

“There was another East Lyme runner (Sean McCauley) who finished ahead of him. So he was focused on Fant and McCauley was not on his radar. I thought he would be in the top 12 and that would be great, but on any given day, you never know what will happen,” Lusa said.

Menounos finished just 13 seconds behind the winner, Michael Byrnes of Wilton High School.

There was some concern coming into the meet for the Centaurs about the timing of the race.

They didn’t run until the final race of the day, at 3:50 p.m.

In some past years, when rain and freezing temperatures come into play, that can mean a muddy mess.

In 2022, it was just about perfect.

“The course was in very good shape. Things were packed kind of tight, there were some dead grass areas, but not a lot of mud. The temperatures were ideal. The morning’s first races were very cold, temperatures were in the 30’s and then it warmed up. The last race was good. Now, we have to be concerned about next year when we will have the first two races of the day,” Lusa said.

East Lyme (78) finished first as a team followed by E.O. Smith, Guilford, Daniel Hand and then the Centaurs with 176.

Just to show that every runner is important in cross-country, E.O. Smith and Guilford finished in a 115-all tie so it came down to the sixth-place finisher from both teams. E.O. Smith’s came in ahead of Guilford which means the Panthers will run in the State Open championship and the Grizzlies will stay home.

“It was a lesson for the kids that the sixth runners are important,” Lusa said. “I was very happy with fifth place. We knew East Lyme was going to be ahead of us. We’ve been chasing them all season long.”

Senior Vince Bastura was second across the line for the Centaurs in 15th.

“I think he’s pretty cooked and ready for the offseason,” Lusa said.

The senior, after the ECC championship, had said he was battling the effects of over training.

Colton Sallum finished 30th , Charles Cagiano was 41st and Joel Koleszar 85th to account for the Centaurs top five runners.

For Menounos, it means another race is at hand.

He wants to finish in the top 25 on Friday which would qualify him for the New England cross-country championship.

“We have to sit and look at it. We will get the full rundown of who the State Open qualifiers are and see where he sits and who he needs to beat. He was telling me that if he could drop this much time, and in my head, I was thinking about the 25 other guys ahead of him who will also be trying to drop their times. It’s whoever can manage it, whoever can go out faster than they normally do, and hold on. If you’re not used to going out fast without losing it and dropping off lots and lots of time, that will make a difference. I keep telling him, too, he’s a sophomore. He will be back more times. Let the race come to him,” Lusa said.

The State Open gets underway on Friday at 2:45 p.m.