NEW CANAAN -- It was a clean sweep for the Ridgefield High School cross country teams on Thursday, as both the boys and girls teams won their respective FCIAC championships at Waveny Park.
Ridgefield senior Trevor Hopper won the boys individual title, while Staples sophomore Hannah DeBalsi won the girls crown.
"We worked really hard for this moment, going into states as well," Hopper said. "We've been looking at this meet for a while. We're looking toward states and we want to see how well we can do there. This is a stepping stone."
And what a stepping stone it was.
Ridgefield won the boys event with 27 points -- just three points off the all-time meet low -- and snapped Danbury's eight-year reign as conference champions. The Hatters placed fourth with 99 points. Darien was second with 59 points, Staples was third with 91 and Fairfield Warde was fifth with 174.
"We're disappointed because our intentions were to come in here and fight as hard as we could and try to win," Danbury coach Rob Murray said. "When you don't win, there's a certain natural amount of disappointment. I'm not disappointed in the kids as people, we're just a little upset that we didn't perform as well as we thought we were capable of. Hopefully, as we move forward, we can correct some mental mistakes that we made and give a better performance next time."
The girls team scoring was much closer, with Ridgefield winning with 52 points, followed by Staples in second with 57, Wilton in third with 74, Fairfield Warde in fourth with 91 and Darien in fifth with 105. This is the second straight title for Ridgefield, which had won five straight from 2003-07 and was the conference runner-up in 2008.
Hopper's time of 15:15 in the 5,000-meter boys race was a course record. Darien junior Alex Ostberg also bested the course record, but finished second in 15:18. They were the only two boys varsity runners to run faster than a five-minute-per-mile pace.
"I knew going in that Hopper was going to be great competition for me," Ostberg said. "I faced him last year at New Englands in outdoor track, and he beat me in that race by a couple places. I knew he had a move in him, I just tried to stay relaxed at the start and stick with him as long as possible. He just put a move in at 400 meters that got me. He finished strong."
Hopper had placed second at last year's FCIAC meet to Staples' Henry Wynne.
"I just tried to take it easy for the first half of it and get faster as I went along," Hopper said. "About two miles in, I took the lead and just tried to keep it as much as I could.
"Big props to Ostberg," Hopper added with a grin. "He's probably going to break my record by a lot next year."
Rounding out the boys top 10 were Ridgefield senior Will Bordash in third (15:52), McMahon sophomore Eric Van Der Els in fourth (15:53), Ridgefield junior Austin Gilbert in fifth (16:04), Staples junior Oliver Hickson in sixth (16:09), Danbury junior Corey Mullens in seventh (16:10), Ridgefield junior Kristian Sogaard in eighth (16:11), Darien sophomore Armstrong Noonan in ninth (16:13) and Ridgefield sophomore Gabe Altopp in 10th (16:15).
Placing its top five runners among the top 10 places made Ridgefield practically unbeatable.
"Ridgefield ran a fantastic race. I mean, 27 points," Murray said. "I don't think we would've ran much under 50, even on an unbelievable day. Regardless of how we performed, they performed very admirably. They were the team that was aggressive on the course and fought the hardest on the course."
In the girls' 4,000-meter race, DeBalsi set the course record in 13:29, followed by Westhill senior Claire Howlett in second in 13:41. The rest of the pack wasn't even in sight when those two crossed the finish line.
"I'm happy individually, and I'm happy with our team performance, too," DeBalsi said. "I know we would've liked to win, but we weren't that far behind. It's a good sign for states -- Ridgefield is in our state class. It's motivation, in a way. Maybe we can get them back."
DeBalsi knew Howlett was in hot pursuit, but she kept her eyes facing forward and her legs churning.
"I tried not to look over my shoulder, because it annoys me when other people do that, and it's a waste of energy, too," DeBalsi said. "I could hear people breathing behind me. I knew Claire was still behind me because I could still hear people cheering for her."
Defending champion Cate Allen, a senior from Fairfield Warde, finished third in 14:33. She won last year in 14:20. In fact, the top three finishers this year were the same as last year, just in a different order. Howlett was the runner up both times.
"I know Hannah has been running some really great times this season, so my goal was just to stay with her as long as I could and see what I could do," said Howlett, who was the Connecticut Gatorade Girls Track and Field Athlete of the Year this past spring. "I stayed with her for about the first mile, and then she got away. I tried to keep the distance between us roughly the same once she got the lead."
Rounding out the girls top 10 were Ridgefield senior Laura Hergenrother in fourth (14:37), Wilton senior Sarah Healy in fifth (14:45), Staples junior Erica Hefnawy in sixth (14:48), Darien junior Anne Johnston in seventh (14:53), Wilton sophomore Mary Lynch in eighth (15:12), McMahon junior Kristin Burnham in ninth (15:16) and Ridgefield junior Hannah Fleming in 10th (15:26).
Filling out Ridgefield's title-winning top five were senior Sarah Mickool in 11th (15:31), senior Melissa Budicini in 13th (15:33) and junior Hannah Mercorella in 23rd (16:00). There may have been faster individuals in the race, but no faster team than Ridgefield.
"It's a lot of team bonding and just picking out the strengths of every individual and building up the team as a whole," Hergenrother said.
FCIAC CROSS COUNTRY CHAMPIONSHIPS
Waveny Park, New Canaan
Boys, 5,000 meters
Team scores: 1. Ridgefield 27; 2. Darien 59; 3. Staples 91; 4. Danbury 99; 5. Fairfield Warde 174; 6. New Canaan 222; 7. Greenwich 224; 8. Norwalk 270; 9. Trumbull 274; 10. Wilton 278; 11. Stamford 289; 12. Fairfield Ludlowe 327; 13. St. Joseph 355; 14. McMahon 370; 15. Westhill 432; 16. Bassick 488; 17. Harding 507 (Bridgeport Central and Trinity Catholic had incomplete teams).
Individuals: 1. Trevor Hopper, Ridgefield, 15:15; 2. Alex Ostberg, Darien, 15:18; 3. Will Bordash, Ridgefield, 15:52; 4. Eric Van Der Els, McMahon, 15:52; 5. Austin Gilbert, Ridgefield, 16:04; 6. Oliver Hickson, Staples, 16:09; 7. Corey Mullins, Danbury, 16:10; 8. Kristian Sogaard, Ridgefield, 16:11; 9. Armstrong Noonan, Darien, 16:13; 10. Gabe Altopp, Ridgefield, 16:15; 11. Colten Appleby, Darien, 16:18; 12. Aidan Fiol, Fairfield Warde, 16:19; 13. Peter Elkind, Staples, 16:20; 14. Ryan Ansel, Danbury, 16:23; 15. Chase Gornbein, Staples, 16:26; 16. Spencer Lyman, New Canaan, 16:27; 17. Brian Davey, Darien, 16:32; 18. Ezequiel Rodriguez, Norwalk, 16:36; 19. Jake Berman, Staples, 16:41; 20. Marshall Huffman, Darien, 16:47; 21. James Mas, St. Joseph, 16:52; 22. Kyle O'Brien, Danbury, 16:57; 23. Clint Corso, Ridgefield, 16:57; 24. Mark Jarombek, Greenwich, 16:58; 25. Mickey Kozak, Danbury, 17:00; 26. Peter Kreuch, Darien, 17:00; 27. Nick Gans, Fairfield Warde, 17:01; 28. Alex Ellsworth, New Canaan, 17:01; 29. Ben Olsen, Darien, 17:02; 30. Gilmar Barrios, Stamford, 17:03.
Girls, 4,000 meters
Team scores: 1. Ridgefield 52; 2. Staples 57; 3. Wilton 74; 4. Fairfield Warde 91; 5. Darien 105; 6. New Canaan 173; 7. Trumbull 221; 8. Greenwich 231; 9. Danbury 249; 10. Fairfield Ludlowe 253; 11. Norwalk 340; 12. Stamford 350; 13. St. Joseph 406; 14. Harding 445 (Westhill and McMahon had incomplete teams).
Individuals: 1. Hannah DeBalsi, Staples, 13:39; 2. Claire Howlett, Westhill, 13:41; 3. Cate Allen, Fairfield Warde, 14:33; 4. Laura Hergenrother, Ridgefield, 14:37; 5. Sarah Healy, Wilton, 14:45; 6. Erica Hefnawy, Staples, 14:48; 7. Anne Johnston, Darien, 14:43; 8. Mary Lynch, Wilton, 15:12; 9. Kristin Burnham, McMahon, 15:16; 10. Hannah Fleming, Ridgefield, 15:26; 11. Sarah Mickool, Ridgefield, 15:31; 12. Elisabeth French, Staples, 15:31; 13. Melissa Budicini, Ridgefield, 15:33; 14. Olivia Bernardini, Wilton, 15:38; 15. Amy Wyle, Greenwich, 15:42; 16. Emma Rosenstein, New Canaan, 15:46; 17. Keily Gaston, Wilton, 15:52; 18. Claire Turner, Norwalk, 15:53; 19. Katharine Smith, Staples, 15:54; 20. Hannah Dougherty, Fairfield Warde, 15:56; 21. Erika Osherow, Darien, 15:58; 22. Molly Davidson, Fairfield Warde, 15:59; 23. Hannah Mercorella, Ridgefield, 16:00; 24. Kate Romanchick, Trumbull, 16:01; 25. Alex Ford, Darien, 16:01; 26. Angelee Parmar, Staples, 16:02; 27. Amanda Kuczo, Fairfield Warde, 16:02; 28. Kelly Powlishen, Fairfield Warde, 16:02; 29. Alexandra Barnard, Darien, 16:03; 30. Erin Munley, Staples, 16:16.
Note: Top 15 finishers are first-team All-FCIAC; next 15 are second-team All-FCIAC.