Raneri takes charge
Published 8:00 pm, Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Here's the truth about New Fairfield junior John Raneri: since last fall, he's erased the 40-seconds plus gap he had with one of the top two returning runners in the state, defending South-West Conference and Class M champion Mike Levene of Joel Barlow.
Raneri bested Levene by 27 seconds in a season-opening dual meet, announcing himself as a legitimate threat in the SWC and in Class M, maybe even at the State Open. Levene wasn't completely healthy, but he insisted his breathing problems had nothing to do with the outcome.
"You don't know how shocked I was," Raneri admitted last week.
You can't blame him. After all, he trailed Levene last year by 49 seconds at the league meet, by 43 seconds in the Class M race and by 46 seconds at the State Open, where Levene was eighth and Raneri 38th.
It's not like Levene is running slower and has backed up. No, Raneri picked up his own pace considerably to catch Levene. He credits heavy summer mileage and cites a training program provided by new assistant Jeff Nelson, a New Fairfield High graduate who ran cross country and track at Syracuse University.
"I worked very, very hard over the summer. I did 65- to 70-mile weeks. I just worked so hard and I really deserved that win," Raneri said. "I just really can't explain it because last year I lost by like a minute to him."
The Sept. 9 performance validated his dedication and told Raneri a lot about himself and his potential.
"It meant that I could be in contention for the Open title," he said. "That is my eventual goal this year."
In the preseason, head coach Tim Murphy called Nelson his "diamond in the rough."
"He's basically got these kids running a college (workout) program," Murphy said. "He's extremely intense and it's all business."
Said Raneri: "He started working with our team in March and he's just been such a great help. Our team improved has improved so much."
Raneri was somewhat skeptical about doing the added mileage, which can lead to an injury and/or wear a runner down as the season progresses.
"I was kind of worried at first but I did try it. In mid August I was feeling great, doing 65-mile weeks. I don't think I could've felt any better," Raneri said, adding that he feels great as the postseason approaches.
Raneri stands as an example of how perseverance pays off. He started running in sixth grade with Flash Track.
"I really wasn't the best but in eighth grade I really improved a lot," he recalled.
Raneri played soccer for the Rebels as a freshman, then ran indoor and outdoor track before joining the cross country team as a sophomore.
Only a year later he's in the same conversation with Levene, the second-highest finisher among returnees from the 2007 State Open (behind only Danbury's Tucker Schaefer).
On Sept. 27, Raneri was the runner-up in the Division I race at the Ocean State New Balance meet in Warwick, R.I., helping his team to a third-place showing. On Saturday, he took third in the seeded race at the Wickham Park Invitational. While he may still be somewhat of a mystery around the state, with the post-season looming he'll get the chance to raise his profile in the next few weeks.
His first opportunity comes today at the South-West Conference meet at Bethel High.
Immaculate senior Moira Kenny, the runner-up each of the past two seasons, is favored to win the girls race. The deep field includes Pomperaug senior Jeanne Theleen, the 2005 and 2006 champion. Newtown graduate Elise DeRoo prevailed in an upset last year.
"I really want to win SWCs this year. I think that having a great race here is definitely getting me really excited about the SWCs," Kenny said after winning the Bethel Invitational on the same 5K course that will be used for the league meet.
Kenny won the Class S state title last fall and took fourth at the Open behind three seniors that graduated. On Saturday, she captured the 5K seeded race at the Wickham Park Invitational in 18:59, the fastest time of the day by 27 seconds in the three varsity girls races.
New Milford is favored to win both team championships.
The Green Wave boys would break the league record by winning their seventh title in a row. They share the mark with Newtown, which dominated from 1986 to 1991.
New Milford knocked off previously unbeaten Brookfield 27-31 in last week's final dual meet. Its lone loss was by one point to Weston. Coach Chris Bacich expects a four-way battle involving New Milford, Brookfield, New Fairfield and Weston.
The Green Wave girls, who are aiming for their first SWC championship since 1999, completed a perfect dual meet campaign by holding off previously unbeaten New Fairfield 26-31 last week.
The girls race is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m.; the boys race at 4:40 p.m. Both begin down on a lower field beyond the football field and finish on the Bethel High track.
In the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference meet at Waveny Park in New Canaan, the Danbury boys and Ridgefield girls are once again expected to rule the day.
The Danbury boys are seeking their fourth consecutive title and ninth in the past 10 years. Ranked fifth in the Northeast by The Harrier, the Hatters beat six nationally-ranked teams to finish second in the Eastern States race during the 36th annual Manhattan College High School Invitational at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, N.Y.
Seniors Tucker Schaefer, Joey Bubniak, Danny Bubniak, Kevin Russell and Levi Wallace finished within 33 seconds of each other with an average time of 13:09 on the 2.5-mile course.
"We're in very, very good shape," Joey Bubniak said after the race. "We haven't started any speed stuff so we're still using our base training from the summer."
The Ridgefield girls, unbeaten in the dual-meet season, are aiming for their sixth championship in a row.
"Being undefeated is nice but that all goes out the window at the FCIACs," coach Sandy Hoddinott said. "Wilton was undefeated the last three years (and didn't win the title). Wilton beat us at the Wilton Invitational and is rated ahead of us in the state poll. So I do not think we are necessarily the favorite."
That may be true, considering the Tigers' lineup has been "in a state of flux," according to Hoddinott.
Katie Howley and Isabella Corso remain their co-pacesetters, but No. 3 scorer Jenna McClane has been bothered by sore shins and was held out of Saturday's race at the Manhattan Invitational. She is expected to run today, however.
Ridgefield also flaunts depth. Kelly Holmes and Kori Krichko have been steady scorers, while four others are capable of moving into the top five on any given day.
"The team is running well," Hoddinott said.
The FCIAC girls meet starts at 3 p.m. and is followed by the boys meet at 3:25 p.m.