NORTH STONINGTON — Wheeler High may have the smallest runner pool in the ECC, but the Lions merited what could be considered a perfect-attendance certificate in the sport of girls cross country.
ECC Division III and IV schools showed dwindling participation rates. Only three D-III teams had a squad, and Wheeler was the only Division IV school to feature a full team. The Lions made the most of their season, placing five runners on the ECC Division IV first team, led by freshman Kaitlyn Kumpf, who was 15th overall in the ECC championship race.
It was a successful season for first-year coach Bern Macca. The Lions posted a 10-2 record, won the five-team Wheeler Invite and placed 11th in both the ECC championships and the Class S state meet.
"We exceeded expectations," Macca said. "In some years, Wheeler has had trouble with numbers, much like is the case now with many smaller ECC schools. Steadily, we had nine runners attending practices and meets, while we ran unopposed in most meets. The program is heading in the right direction."
The emergence of Kumpf proved that claim. A Marine Science Magnet student who lives in town, Kumpf joined the squad after preseason workouts and made a favorable first impression.
"Immediately, she ran in front of our pack," Macca said. "She's very motivated, strong academically and used to pushing herself to be her best."
At the ECC meet, Kumpf covered the 3.1-mile course in 22:29. She was the third-fastest freshman in the conference. At the Class S meet, Kumpf was faster, finishing 12th in 21:37. She placed 104th at the State Open in 22:27.
"It was an excellent season," Macca said. "She's capable of great things in the future."
Smith, who was named Wheeler's scholar-athlete, made Division IV first team as Wheeler's primary No. 2 runner. The senior was 32nd at the ECC meet in 24:45 and 48th in the Class S meet at 24:45.
"Lucy was a great leader," Macca said. "She's the type that is a hard worker and leads by example."
Junior Rose Tardiff and senior Kiara Korten, who was also on the ECC sportsmanship list, made the first team as well. Tardiff was 73rd in the ECC meet; Korten was 84th.
"Rose and Kiara made a commitment to work hard the entire 3.1 miles this season," Macca said. "They ran together in most races and pushed and encouraged each other. They made great improvement, finishing under 30 minutes in races."
Freshman Ava Vangieri also made an impact, earning first-team honors after finishing 78th in the ECC meet. Sophomore Carissa Brown made Division IV honorable mention. She missed the ECC meet but bounced back to run a 25:49 in Class S for 70th place.
"It was a great group of girls," Macca said. "They were dedicated for the entire season and had fun doing it."
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