At the Class SS state cross country meet on Oct. 30, he was told to hold back some of his horses. Today at the CIAC State Open Championships at the same course, that won't be the case for Weston senior captain Steve Vento at 2:45 p.m. at Wickham Park in Manchester.

"This whole season I haven't had the chance to raise my full potential because of the new training program," Vento said. "Every race, I looked at it as a workout, but come this Friday, I feel like this will be the race where I have to go all out."

He was referring to the new training program that Weston boys cross country coach Marty Ogden implemented this past season, which focused more on aerobic strength and lengthier runs and less on anaerobic speed.

The Trojans finished this season with a dual meet record of 10-5, a showing that counts as a step back for the defending Class SS champions that won state titles three out of the last five seasons.

The team finished placed sixth in the SouthWest Conference championship meet on Oct. 21 and eighth at the state meet.

"Obviously, I don't think that paid off this year," Ogden said. "I think for the long term it will because one of the things that most high school kids are lacking is the aerobic base. They don't have enough of a base to really reach their potential... If we do this now, it will pay off next year, I hope."

Vento, though, doesn't have next year. This is final shot at an opportunity to place in the top 25 and win an invitation to the New England Championships Nov. 13 in Thetford, Vt. He qualified for today's race after finishing 11th in the state meet with a time of 17:15. He did so in spite of not going full-throttle and with a case of Achilles tendonitis that has burdened him about a week before the SWC championship meet. After going through extensive physical therapy sessions, though, he claims to be "almost 100 percent."

"Physical therapy has gotten me back up to a level where I don't feel much pain at all in my Achilles so that's good," Vento said.

"He's been doing some workouts for the past couple days and he hasn't felt anything, so I think he's ready to go on [Friday]. We're hoping that if we get in luck this season whatsoever, we're hoping he can get in the top 25 and make it to New Englands," Ogden said.

The coach was alluding to the additional obstacles of having two of his other top four runners out of the lineup down the stretch:

sophomore Noah Krassin (hip flexor) and junior Brad DeMarco (mononucleosis).

Vento will be joined today by sophomore teammate David Stankiewicz, who qualified as a wildcard with a time of 17:18 as one of the 30 best times out of the six classes after the top 12 runners and top two teams all qualified for the meet.

"He's really done a great job," Ogden said of Stankiewicz. "He started off the season barely in our top five, but he's really come a long way in the past three weeks."

"While it was frustrating with our win-loss record--losing some close meets and not doing well in the state meet--what basically kept my sanity was the fact that these kids were the hardest working group of kids I've probably ever had here at Weston," he said.

Weston's lone representative at today's girls' race at 2 p.m. will be senior Kara Bucaro, who punched her ticket by finishing sixth in the Class M state meet with a time of 20:05--her personal record for the course.

"I didn't feel my nerves at all going into SWCs or states this year and in previous years my nerves might have held me back a little bit or I might not have been feeling my best or I wasn't in the right mindset," Bucaro said. "I was just really focused. I went up to those meets with a focused mind set and was very calm about it because I knew that my focus should be to later meets."

Now she has her eyes fixed on the goal of competing at the New England championships.

Bucaro's experience factor was a rarity on the Weston girls cross country team this year. With six seniors gone from the team in 2009, coach John Goetz was well aware of that coming into the season. Weston finished 6-9 in dual meet action and went on to finish 13th overall in the Class M state meet standings.

Although the Lady Trojans lost to a trio of teams in dual meets that he thought his team should have defeated (Joel Barlow, Bethel, Brookfield), he was thrilled when his team ended up finishing seventh at the SWC championship meet--just ahead of all three of those teams.

"It told me that me as the season went along the girls actually improved the way they should have improved with our training program,"

Goetz said.

Like Ogden, Goetz tried out a different training regimen, one that "implemented a lot more core training or calisthetics than I had in the past."

The team will lose Bucaro and fellow senior captain Casey Weiss to graduation, but will still return a large group of now-proven performers, highlighted by the efforts of freshman August Schweitzer.

"She's going to definitely be our top returning runner," Goetz said.

"As August starts to learn how to race, she's only going to get a lot better. Her problem right now isn't really endurance or anything like that. It's just being comfortable with racing and knowing how to race."

Other runners who earned some stripes this season included junior Rachel Fraade, junior Catherine Kravchenko and sophomore Stef Buffa.