In the girls cross country showdown among the FCIAC's three unbeaten division leaders Tuesday afternoon in Westport, host Staples beat Fairfield Warde and Ridgefield, as well as Norwalk and Brien McMahon, to raise its conference record to 11-0. The Staples boys, who had lost to Darien and Danbury earlier this month, improved to 9-2 by defeating Warde, Ridgefield, Norwalk and McMahon as well.
The Ridgefield girls (10-1), leaders of the FCIAC Central, edged East front-running Warde 27-29, but lost to Staples, of the FCIAC West, 25-32, in addition to defeating Norwalk and McMahon. The Mustangs lost to Staples 23-36, but defeated Norwalk 15-49 and McMahon 19-44. On the boys side, Warde beat McMahon 22-42 and Norwalk 23-37, but was defeated by Staples 20-37 and by Ridgefield 24-31.
The girls race featured a duel between undefeated runners. Staples sophomore Hannah DeBalsi set her fourth course record in four races this fall by beating Warde senior Cate Allen, who was the runner-up. DeBalsi covered the 4,400-meter course (2.76 miles) in 15 minutes and 23 seconds, with Allen finishing in 16:20.
"We want to win, and we want everyone to improve," said Staples' Laddie Lawrence, the boys cross country head coach and the assistant to Amanda Parrish for the girls. "I think this was an important (team) win. When you see three great teams together, you want to come out on top."
"A lot of our (boys and girls) ran hard today," said Tim Foster, head coach of both Warde teams. "We knew it was going to be a highly competitive race. We knew it was going to be one of, if not the most difficult meet of the season. Staples and Ridgefield (girls) are two of the top 10 teams in the state."
The showdown between DeBalsi and Allen didn't last for long. Allen, who defeated DeBalsi in the dual-meet season in 2012, was close behind as the course was moving toward the first mile marker. Lawrence, who biked the course, said DeBalsi began to pull away in the next half-mile. Allen said the beginning of the separation between them was a combination of a successful move to pull ahead by DeBalsi and Allen starting to fade some.
"I didn't feel my best," Allen said. "Hannah had a great race."
"The plan was for me to take it out hard. There was just two days between races for me," added DeBalsi, who won the Large Division Varsity race Saturday at the Stratton Brook Invitational in Simsbury. "I felt good considering."
Following Allen was Ridgefield sophomore Laura Hergenrother (17:01) in third, Erica Hefnawy (17:09) of Staples fourth, Kristin Burnham (17:25) of McMahon fifth, Elisabeth French (17:31) of Staples sixth, Melissa Budicini (17:38) of Ridgefield seventh, Sarah Mickool (17:40) of Ridgefield eighth, Sarah Radziewicz (18:00) of Warde ninth and Kelly Powlishen (18:02) of Warde 10th.
McMahon sophomore Eric van der Els won the 5,000-meter (3.14 miles) boys race in 16:16, with Staples junior Oliver Hickson second in 16:32 and Warde senior Aidan Fiol (16:51) third. Three Staples runners -- Peter Elkind, Jake Berman and Chase Gornbein -- crossed the finish line in-hand, each in 17:03, to finish fourth, fifth and sixth. Norwalk's Ezequiel Rodriguez (17:14) was seventh, followed by Ridgefield's Clint Corso (17:36) eighth, Ridgefield's Graeme Hewett (17:38) ninth and Norwalk's Christian Bonebrake (17:46) 10th.
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Boys Cross Country
Staples 20, Fairfield Warde 37; Staples 19, Ridgefield 38; Staples 17, Norwalk 44; Staples 20, Brien McMahon 41; Ridgefield 24, Warde 31; Ridgefield 23, Norwalk 32; Ridgefield 21, McMahon 40; Warde 23, Norwalk 37; Warde 32, McMahon 42; Norwalk 23, McMahon 38 (at Staples, 3.1 miles): 1. Eric van der Els (M) 16:15; 2. Oliver Hickson (S) 16:32; 3. Aidan Fiol (FW) 16:51; 4. Peter Elkind (S) 17:03; 5. Jake Berman (S) 17:03; 6. Chase Gornbein (S) 17:03; 7. Ezequiel Rodriguez (N) 17:14; 8. Clint Corso (R) 17:36; 9. Graeme Hewett (R) 17:38; 10. Christian Bonebrake (N) 17:46. Records: Staples 9-2, Ridgefield 9-2, Warde 6-4.
Girls Cross Country
Staples 23, Fairfield Warde 36; Staples 25, Ridgefield 32; Staples 15, Norwalk 50; Staples 18, Brien McMahon 45; Ridgefield 27, Warde 29; Ridgefield 16, Norwalk 47; Ridgefield 19, McMahon 44; Warde 15, Norwalk 49; Warde 19, McMahon 44; McMahon 22, Norwalk 33 (at Staples, 2.7 miles): 1. Hannah DeBalsi (S) 15:23; 2. Cate Allen (FW) 16:20; 3. Laura Hergenrother (R) 17:01; 4. Erica Hefnawy (S) 17:09; 5. Kristin Burnham (M) 17:25; 6. Elisabeth French (S) 17:31; 7. Melissa Budicini (R) 17:38; 8. Sarah Mickool (R) 17:40; 9. Sarah Radziewicz (W) 18:00; 10. Kelly Powlishen (W) 18:02. Records: Staples 11-0, Ridgefield 10-1, Warde 8-2.