NORWICH — It was too loose a deck for the Stonington High boys’ cross country team’s pack mentality Thursday during the Eastern Connecticut Conference championship meet.
The Bears came into the meet with an undefeated record in the ECC-Medium thanks to their one-point win over Bacon Academy last week. They were primed to sweep the regular season and championship meet divisional titles for the second straight season.
But Stonington’s strength — a closely-knit pack of runners from one to seventh place — withered slightly on a warm day of 75 degrees at the Norwich Golf Course.
Usually the Bears’ first through fifth runners are only separated by 25 or so seconds, more than compensating for the fact that they lack an All-State caliber runner.
The strength in numbers served Stonington well all season during a 5-0 divisional mark, but the pack of first through sixth was spaced out by as much as a minute Thursday, allowing Bacon Academy to finish first among Medium teams with 37 points, seven points better than Stonington.
Bacon and Stonington now share the Medium title with 9-1 records as regular season and championship meet finishes are combined to form final standings.
Griffin Waller finished third overall for Bacon, which finished third overall with 139 points, behind champion Norwich Free Academy (75) and Woodstock (109). Stonington was sixth overall of 17 teams with 174 points.
“We finished one place better overall than last year when we were seventh,” Stonington senior Frank Sternberg said, “but we wanted to win the Medium outright. Winning it outright in back-to-back seasons was important to us. Sharing was not what we were looking for, but we didn’t run our best.”
Kieran Thornell was Stonington’s first finisher on the 3.1-mile course in 25th place overall in 18:29. Sternberg was second (33rd, 18:49) and Henry Kaczman was third (36th, 18:55). Seth Burger, usually Stonington’s seventh runner, was a pleasant surprise as the Bears’ fourth runner (37th, 18:56). Sean Crowley placed 43rd in 19:24 to round out the Bears’ scoring.
“We’re disappointed,” Stonington coach Jenna Ross said. “We had an off day, but this is a tough course and the weather was weird (unseasonably warm). Hopefully we’ll be happy next week in the states.”
During dual- and tri-meets in the regular season, Stonington can easily run five to seven competitors together in a pack. But in this crowded ECC race of 119 entrants, the Bear pack lost its place.
“We’ve been geared to the pack mentality all season because everyone supports each other verbally and helps each other get through the race,” Ross said. “In this size of field, it’s easier to lose track of where your teammates are. Some find themselves running by themselves and it’s a different feeling.”
Counting just Medium Division finishers, Stonington’s top five placed sixth, seventh, ninth, 10th and 12th for 44 points.
Bacon’s Waller was the first Medium finisher, and Bobcats followed in fourth, fifth, 13th and 14th for 37 points. Stonington needed its sixth and seventh place finishers to finish ahead of Bacon’s fourth and fifth place runners.
Still, Ross and the Bears did not come up empty, according to volunteer assistant coach Tom McCoy, who led the Bears to a state title in 2001 as head coach.
“Coach McCoy told us we are the first Stonington team to repeat as ECC-Medium champs,” Ross said. “It’s nice to win back-to-back.”
The Bears compete Oct. 26 at 11:25 a.m. in the Class SS state meet at Wickham Park in Manchester.
JV boys win division
Stonington’s JV boys’ team won the Medium Division 3.1-mile race of five teams with 21 points.
Andrew Bourque (19:44), Nick Robinson (20:51), Ryan Schrempf (20:53) and Spencer Jones (20:55) were first through fourth, respectively, among Medium runners. David Gray (22:02) rounded out the scoring in 11th among Medium runners.
Stonington placed third overall among 11 teams, behind champion NFA and Woodstock.
Stonington’s girls’ team performed pretty much according to plan, finishing 12th out of 16 teams overall with 312 points and fourth out of six Medium Division teams with 83 points.
Antonia Reynolds was the Bears’ top finisher in 47th overall with a time of 23:42 across 3.1 miles.
Elise Huysman was 52nd (23:53), Anna Bornstein was 63rd (24:42), Serena Monteiro 72nd (24:58) and Caralyn Granato was 79th in 25:19.
Stonington runs on Saturday, Oct. 26 in the Class SS meet at Wickham Park at 10:50 a.m.
Stonington’s girls’ JV finished seventh with 200 points.
Emily Craig placed 44th overall (27:55) and was Stonington’s first runner. Lindsay Pratt (37th, 28:22), Breanna Jones (40th, 29:35), Hannah Lyon (44th, 30:10) and Dominique Strafach (45th, 30:11) completed the Bears’ scoring.