Staples fall preview: Cross country teams ready to contend
Updated 3:40 pm, Wednesday, September 9, 2015
The Staples boys and girls cross country teams are each coming off strong cross country and track seasons, and both are in a strong position to repeat last year’s accomplishments.
The girls won their first FCIAC cross country title since 1997 while the boys placed second by a single point to Danbury at the same meet. The girls finished second at Class LL and third at the State Open, while the boys placed fifth at Class LL and third at the State Open.
The boys side has several excellent returners, including tri-captains James Lewis, Ben Foster and Chase Gornbein. All are coming off All-New England performances in track and lead a front pack that includes Brandon Harrington, Zakeer Ahmad, Campbell Marsh and Michael Van der Merwe.
“We lost a lot of good quality kids with some really good leadership, but this year’s group is just as good and the leadership is excellent,” said coach Laddie Lawrence. “The three guys that we have as captains have started on a serious note; everyone wants to do well this season.”
The competitiveness of distance running in the state has increased exponentially in recent seasons, raising the standard that each team must meet. Danbury has claimed 14 of the last 16 FCIAC titles, and is one of the favorites this fall.
“We’re good but everyone else is too,” Lawrence said. “Distance running in Connecticut has improved a lot in the last 10 years. The last couple years have been very hard; we’ve had teams here that years ago could go out and win the Open, and we were third and fourth in the Open.”
The girls team will reload with a host of new runners under coach Amanda Morgan. Now a senior, Hannah DeBalsi will be one of three captains along with Angelee Parmar and Catherine Smith. Morgan said several talented freshman have impressed in preseason, including Elise McCambley.
“Every year someone else has to step up because we lose captains every year,” DeBalsi said. “Without (graduated senior Erica Hefnaway); because she’s such a big personality it’s weird to fill the void. We’re all trying to do that.”
Junior Isabella Hale is a wild card for the Wreckers. Hale is a transfer from Denmark with little competitive running experience, but has been one of the fastest runners on the team in preseason.
“She’s been looking really comfortable at the front of the pack,” Morgan said. “She definitely seems like she has a lot of talent.”
DeBalsi has her sights on Foot Locker nationals, which won’t take place until Dec. 12. Completely healthy after several setbacks in 2014/15, DeBalsi hopes the road to San Diego will be a smooth one.
Last season, DeBalsi won the FCIAC, Class LL, State Open and New England titles in cross country before placing in the top 10 at nationals.
“Hopefully we strike the right balance between holding back early in the season and continuing to build base and not wating too long,” Morgan said.
With the blend of experience and potential, the Wreckers are excited to get the season underway Sept. 15 in a meet with Westhill, Danbury and Wilton.
“Especially for the people who have never raced before, I’m excited to watch them get more used to it,” Morgan said. “I’m excited to see them become more experienced racers as the season goes along.”