Pictured: H-K’s Shoreline Conference champion boys team, from left Fisher Harris, Julian Spector, Caleb Freeman, Matt Jennings, Christian Uzwiak, Griffin Robinson and Sean Rutledge. (Photo courtesy of Charles Lynskey)
Haddam-Killingworth doubled up at the Shoreline Conference cross country championships, the boys team making it back-to-back titles and the girls defeating heavily favored Old Saybrook for its fourth title in five years.
And, not to be outdone, the Cougars’ boys and girls junior varsity teams won the championship in their respective races.
Junior Matt Jennings, after being the 2018 Shoreline runner-up, won the varsity individual title in 15 minutes, 49 seconds on the flat and fast Cromwell High School course.
“Matt is someone that as the season progresses and you get to the championship meets, he really steps it up,” longtime Cougars coach Matt Diglio said. “He had a lot of expectations and personal goals for himself going into the season.”
East Hampton senior Jacob Ireland finished second, seven seconds behind Jennings, and H-K senior Christian Uzwiak was third in 16:07, one second ahead of fourth-place finisher Mark Rodriguez of Cromwell.
“Christian had a phenomenal race. He’s been our No. 2 man all season long,” Diglio said. “He made so much progress since his freshman year. He stayed focused and was really determined at this race. He had a terrific day.”
Diglio said it was important for Jennings to have another runner set the pace early so he could prepare to make a move at the halfway point and then pull away from the field.
“Matt ran a smart race,” Diglio said. “He had a nice day and hopefully will continue to progress as the season goes on.”
H-K’s pack running tipped the scales in team scoring, with both sophomore Caleb Freeman (seventh) and junior Fisher Harris (eighth) finishing in 16:40 and junior Sean Rutledge in 16:41 for ninth place.
The Cougars’ 28 team points bested runner-up East Hampton by 21. Cromwell was third with 74, Hale-Ray fourth with 131 and Old Saybrook fifth with 143.
“We knew East Hampton was very good and much improved, and we knew we could be beaten,” Diglio said. “We had to have those three (Freeman, Harris, Rutledge) race just as well.”
The girls varsity team ran what Diglio described as an “unbelievable” race, beating Old Saybrook by five points for the team title. The Cougars were second to Old Saybrook last year.
Sophomore Ava DiMatteo (20:07), senior Lauren D’Amico (20:19), senior Julia Callis (20:26) and junior Meara Bodak (20:28) finished six through nine, and freshman Isabel Berardino hit the line in 20:45 to finish 12th and seal the deal.
The Cougars’ depth and experience carried the day. Except for the loss last year’s No. 1 runner, Emma Anziano, to graduation, this year’s team is intact.
“This season was interesting for the girls. We had a big core of girls returning and a lot of promise going into season and high expectations and goals,” Diglio said. “At the beginning of October we started to get healthy and recovered from injury, and in the past couple of weeks they’ve come together.”
East Hampton senior Liv DiStefano won the title in 18:36. Old Saybrook’s Grace Hanratty, Caitlin Wiley and Catherin Minegar crossed 3-4-5, but along came the Cougars.
“We knew for us to be successful we needed to have the pack of one through five within a minute of each other, and the 38-second time spread was just fantastic,” Diglio said. “I don’t think many thought we would win. The girls ran extremely well and I think we surprised some teams. They executed the game plan and did just a fantastic job.”
The H-K boys will compete in the Class M portion of the state championships on Saturday, with the girls running in Class SS.
In the JV races, H-K’s Charlotte Selmer (22:23), Jasmine Adelberg (22:44 in her final race for the Cougars) and Katherin Melgar (23:05) swept the first three spots as the team finished with 22 points, far ahead of runner-up Valley Regional.
The JV boys team put on a clinic of pack racing and racked up a perfect score of 15 points, taking the first eight spots and 15 of the first 16. Freshman Mason Gorham won the championship in 17:10.
Fellow freshman Jack Insalaco was eight seconds behind to finish second, followed by Owen Howes (17:25), Luke Sodergren (17:27), Tyler Robinson (17:28), Maxwell Cozean (17:30), Lucas Kamoen (17:33), and Andrew Hedges (17:37).
Finishing 10 through 16: Michael Coleman (17:41), Nate Petras (17:48), Eamon Sweeny (17:54), Henry Sodergren (18:07), Greyson Merola (18:10), Evan Baird (18:14) and Joseph Giaccone (18:15).