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State Open: Menounos qualifies for New England Championship

It can be a lonely feeling.

While high school cross-country is a team sport when the postseason comes, it does change.

Individuals can qualify for races even if their team does not and that can change the dynamic.

On Thursday prior to the CIAC State Open championship, Woodstock Academy sophomore Christian Menounos was out on the track on the school’s South Campus, doing stretching exercises by himself.

That continued on Friday at the race itself.

“It’s the first time he’s been here by himself for a race. It’s a different kind of warmup, you make all your own decisions; ‘I’m going to turn here’ or ‘I’m going to make a bigger loop there.’,” Woodstock Academy coach Peter Lusa said.

While he was the only one on the course competitively Friday for the Centaurs, Menounos was not entirely alone at the race.

His teammates and coach came along on Friday to help provide support along the course.

It helped.

“The last half-mile I heard my teammates yelling that I was in 27th place. I was like ‘I’m not letting this go’ I kicked as hard I could to the finish line,” Menounos said.

He knew he had to finish in the top 25 to qualify for the New England championship.

“I passed five or six kids on the last hill,” Menounos said. “I felt good (Friday). (Woodstock Academy girls cross-country) Coach (Joe) Banas told me to play it smart and then kick it as hard I could. That’s what I did.”

He finished 22nd in 16 minutes, 42 seconds and qualified for the New England’s which will be held on Nov. 12 at Ponaganset High School in nearby Foster, R.I.

Menounos becomes the first boys cross-country runner from Woodstock Academy since Kevin Graham in 2004 to qualify for the New England championship.

“He ran smart,” Lusa said. “Joe Banas gave him some excellent advice prior to the race. ‘Run the first half with your brain and run the second part with your heart.’ I think he did that.”

Lusa felt Menounos ran smart the first half of the race as he passed the coaches in about 43rd place at the mile mark.

But he worked the hills on the course, passing some 20 runners on one hill before getting past the five or six runners at the end that pushed him into the top 25.

“It’s very special to me because it’s only my sophomore year and not a lot of sophomores get a chance to go to New England’s. I’m just grateful to get that chance,” Menounos said.

Menounos was in select company.

The only other sophomores who qualified for Saturday’s New England race were Xavier’s Owen Martin and Soheib Dissa of Newtown.

“I wanted this to be the year that I went to New England’s, sophomore or not. That was the goal and it’s what I wanted to accomplish,” Menounos said.

Menounos said he has never run on the course at Ponaganset.

It doesn’t matter.

He will be there.

“He had this goal. I’m glad he made it happen,” Lusa said.