The 1600 and 3200 meter races at the FCIAC girls indoor track championships Wednesday were run in nearly the exact same fashion.
Staples sophomore standout Hannah DeBalsi held a slim lead over Westhill senior Claire Howlett for the majority of both races, only for Howlett to make a final lap charge to claim both events.
Howlett clocked in with a time of 10:28.56 in the 3200, over two seconds ahead of DeBalsi (10:30.79). Howlett (4:54.15) finished first in the 1600 ahead of DeBalsi (4:55.63) as the two put on a show at the Floyd Little Athletic Center at Hillhouse High School in New Haven.
"I was pretty tired after my mile, so I just thought I'd duck in there and stay up there as long as I could," Howlett said of the 3200 victory. "I'm not overconfident, because I know I can't beat her every time. It means a lot to me. Usually I'm just going for a good time but today I wanted the win because the FCIAC title is a big deal."
Darien (95 points) won the team competition for the second straight season. Staples finished second (60) and Ridgefield finished third (47).
"It's awesome," Darien Captain Dillon Schoen said. "It shows so much about our team that we are such a strong program. Being the defending FCIAC champions and coming back and winning it again. We have such a deep team and everyone performed so well.
Danbury (89 points) won the boys competition over Ridgefield (79) and Staples (69). The Wreckers were in second place for most of the event before the Tigers made a charge in the 3200 and the 4X400 relay.
But the highlight of the meet was the battle between DeBalsi and Howlett, a pair of once-in-a-generation runners that are placed in the same division in the same conference.
"If anything it's fuel for the next time they race," Staples coach Amanda Parrish said. "It's both good and frustrating to have her closest competitor in the division and in the conference. It means that neither of them get a (off) week. They are always facing each other."
After setting the state record in the divisional meet Saturday, DeBalsi admitted she wasn't at her best and couldn't quite pull away from Howlett as the senior stayed close behind.
"I knew that was going to be her plan, so I just tried to go as hard as I could and see if I could drop her but today wasn't my day. I felt really sluggish."
Darien kicked off the meet with a win in the 4x200 relay (1:47.24) behind the efforts of Anna Sulger, Maddie Schneider, Brittany Henry and Schoen.
"The 4X200 win was really good for us," Schoen said. "We weren't seeded first and we wanted to get that win to kind of start off the meet right because it was the first event."
Ridgefield captured the 4x800 relay (9:53.41) over Fairfield Warde (9:57.33), with Laura Hergenrother running the closing leg for the Tigers.
Fairfield Warde's Cate Allen took home first in the 1000 (2:59.40), edging Hergenrother (2:59.88) by 0.48 seconds. Erica Hefnway (3:05.66) of Staples was third.
"It's definitely a speed race, I think I had good competition in the race and the top three girls had a chance," Allen said. "We kind of worked off each other and I think it was a good race for everyone."
Allen (11:27.12) finished third in the 3200 behind Howlett and DeBalsi. Allen stayed up with the front two for roughly half the race before setting into third.
"My goal was to stick with them longer than that," Allen said. "I am a little bit disappointed with how I ended that race but I hope next time I can come back stronger."
Sulger (1:37.51) won the 600 meters ahead of Staples' Tyler Scanlin (139.18). Scanlin was part of the 1600 sprint medley relay team that finished in first (4:20.73). Bridget Van dorsten captured first in the high jump (5-2).
"Everyone ran really well, everyone ran faster than their seed times," Parrish said. "The SMR ran amazing out of the slow heat and ended up winning the event. I thought Hannah ran well. The distance runners did a really good job."
On the boys side, Anthony Bravo won the long jump for the Wreckers and finished fourth in the 55 meter dash.