Darien girls third at FCIAC cross country meet
Staples junior Hannah DeBalsi was once again the center of attention as she made her long-awaited season debut Monday in the FCIAC cross country championships at Waveny Park in New Canaan.
As usual, DeBalsi didn't disappoint. And, thanks to an inspired run by her teammates, Westport's Wreckers can share the spotlight of being crowned FCIAC champions.
Behind four top-10 finishers, the Wreckers (37) captured their first conference title since 1997, defeating defending champion Ridgefield (73). Darien (81) placed third while Wilton (88) came home fourth. Fairfield Warde (94) rounded out the top five.
"Obviously, (DeBalsi) ran well and is an important part of the team, but everyone ran really well," Staples coach Amanda Morgan said. "To have four girls make the top 10, I wouldn't have even thought to make that a goal coming in."
DeBalsi quickly distanced herself from the pack, crossing the finishing line in 13:37, more than a minute ahead of Darien's Anne Johnston (14:39). DeBalsi set a course record (13:29) in last year's win and was close again despite an increased training workload surrounding this year's event.
"I felt good, I was only (eight) seconds off my time from last year and I was really rested (last year)," DeBalsi said. "I wasn't rested at all this year; it was just a rest-buster."
Johnston held off Staples' Erica Hefnawy (14:44) for second place. Johnston held a comfortable advantage for most of the four kilometer distance before Hefnawy made a hard charge in the final quarter of the race.
"It was great having Erica there, it's always great competition," Johnston said. "I looked behind my back a couple of times to see if she was there and she ran an awesome race. (The last kilometer) I heard she's closing on you, here she comes. My heartbeat starting racing a bit; I was just going and trying to get there before she did."
Suzie Martin and Katharine Smith each notched top-10 finishes for the Wreckers to seal the championship. Martin crossed the line in 15:14 for seventh place, while Smith was a second behind in eighth. The Wreckers were runners-up to Ridgefield in 2013.
"It was emotional for everyone," Morgan said. "Last year there was crying before they saw the results and this year they were crying because they were happy."
A pair of Wilton runners -- Mary Lynch (14:54) and Olivia Bernardini (15:09) -- placed fourth and fifth, respectively. Westhill senior Ericka Randazzo, who hadn't run cross country previously, finished sixth (15:12) overall.
Ridgefield senior Hannah Mercorella placed 11th overall with a time of 15:19, while teammate Kelsey Bordash (15:21) finished right behind her. Fairfield Warde sophomore Sarah Radziewicz finished ninth overall (15:18) while teammate Gabi Galletta finished 10th (15:19).
Without a rival to push her for the win, DeBalsi conserved energy for the upcoming state and regional meets. DeBalsi finished second at cross country nationals last year and is preparing a run at that title as well.
"There's only a certain amount of times you can go all out in one season," DeBalsi said. "I want to save myself physically and mentally for December. It's so weird without (last year's runner-up) Claire (Howlett) here; I could focus more on my training and not worry about going hard in a workout."