Green Wave boys eye state cross country laurels
If recent history is to be believed, the New Milford High boys' cross country team is right where it wants to be heading to state competition.
Coach Chris Bacich's oft-times league and state title program had to settle for a competitive runnerup finish Oct. 17 in the South-West Conference boys' championship race at Bethel High.
The talented Bobcats of Brookfield High edged the Green Wave, 49-55, for the gold plaque, resulting in NMHS' second straight second in the SWCs following a 10-year title run.
New Fairfield was a close third with 58 points in a 14-team field.
Those three packs dominated the race, grabbing 14 of the top 17 places.
Last fall, coach Bacich and Co. were second in the SWC meet, matched that finish in the state class `LL' race and then peaked with a title run at the prestigious state open event.
"We're looking to a day when all seven of our guys have a solid race," said coach Bacich, "and hopefully Saturday at Class `LL' is that day."
"There will be no shortage of competition with Ridgefield, Fairfield Prep, Danbury, and (Westport) Staples out there," he added, "but we're no strangers to success at Wickham Park, so I expect a rebound to match that real desire to prove something."
The Green Wave wasn't far off its game at Bethel, placing Zach Guptill fourth in 17:10.1 over the five-kilometer campus course.
Not far behind were Hugh Sichel (ninth, 17:28.7), Jay Humphreys (11th, 17:35.5), Jonathan Davis (14th, 17:43.4), Greg Hansell (17th, 17:46), Adam Dengler (22nd, 18:02.9) and Luke Simmonds (23rd, 18:03.7).
"I was particularly impressed with the way Zach and Hugh ran," reflected their veteran mentor, "and Jay stepped it up a bit."
"From a team perspective, the Brookfield guys just looked like they wanted it more, so the credit should go to them as victors," said Bacich. "We got our entire team within the top 23 places and still couldn't pull off the win."
The Green Wave girls were unable to mount a serious threat to the upper echelon teams in their SWC championship race that afternoon in Bethel.
Coach Giles Vaughan received a solid performance from Nicole McCarthy (22nd, 21:56.1) and a strong finishing effort from Gabby Cavaliere (28th, 22:30.3), but they were the only NMHS runners in the top 40.
Also finishing for the Green Wave were Emily Day (44th, 23:06.3), injury-hobbled Marissa Stumpf (52nd, 23:48.2), Alexis Kersten (56th, 24:02) and Meaghan Perry (59th, 24:06.1).
The NMHS girls' hopes were dashed during the race as top runner Greer Kramer, a freshmen with "a bright future." according to her coach, was unable to finish the race and senior mainstay Marissa Stump was well off form due to an junry.
Kramer had led the Green Wave in every previous race this fall and had established a new NMHS course record with an 18:45 clocking.
Coach Vaughan praised Marissa Stumpf's effort to finish the brace.
"She has been a great role model and running mate for Greer," he reflected. "Without Marissa, I don't think Greer would have had as much success this season."
He also lauded the performances of "natural leader" Nikki McCarthy, who sliced a minute an deight seconds from her best pre3vious time at Bethel, and Gabby Cavaliere, competing this fall for the first time in cross country.
Both NMHS teams will compete Saturday, Oct. 26 in state class `LL' competition at Wickham Park in Manchester.
Top individual and team qualifiers from those races will advance to Nov. 1's state open races at Wickham.
For more photos, visit www.newmilfordspectrum.com.
Photography by Norm Cummings
Coach: Chris Bacich, 12th year as head coach or co-coach after four years as assistant coach.
Assistant coach: Ryan Rebstock.
2012 record: 12-2 in the regular season; second in the South-West Conference; second in state class `LL;' first at state open; fifth at New England meet.
Key losses: John Hansell, Ryan Clarke, Louis Alhage, Teddy Sheehy and Colm Farrell.
2013 captains: Adam Dengler, Zack Guptill, Jay Humphreys and Hugh Sichel.
Coach's outlook: "Just like last year, we return five of our top seven, but this year we have quite a few more seniors to help lead the way. Naturally, the graduation losses of all-staters John Hansell and Ryan Clarke will be noticeable, but we return a very strong group of runners who have tasted a state championship and are hungry for more. Seniors Hugh Sichel, Zack Guptill and Jay Humphreys appear to be the pacesetters at this point, but we have a healthy front pack right on their heels, a number of whom may be near a top spot."
"It's a very tall order to predict another state open victory, but I think we have a shot at some big things, especially if we stay healthy. From an overall talent perspective, I see this team as potentially even better than last year, despite the low numbers and disappointing lack of freshmen. It's a very experienced, deep squad. The guys worked hard this summer and have looked terrific so far in practice, and they are quite confident. We very much look forward to getting things going competitively."
Seniors: Kevin DeCapua, Adam Dengler, Zachary Guptill, Gabriel Hack, Jay Humphreys, Hugh Sichel, Eric Winkelstern and Phillip Young
Juniors: Brady Clarke, Richard Grudzwick, Greg Hansell and Dylan Nenadal.
Sophomores: Stosh Davis, Connor Galloway, Nathaniel Diamond, Kevin McWilliams, Zachary Pitcher, Lucas Simmonds and Eric Vazquez.
Coach: Chris Bacich
Years as coach: 12 as head coach or co-head coach (16 total)
Assistant coach: Ryan Rebstock
2012 record: 12-2; second in SWC; second in Class LL; first at State Open; fifth at NE meet.
Captains: Adam Dengler, Zack Guptill, Jay Humphreys, Hugh Sichel
Key losses: John Hansell, Ryan Clarke, Louis Alhage, Teddy Sheehy, Colm Farrell
Coach's outlook: Just like last year, we return 5 of our top 7, but this year we have quite a few more seniors to help lead the way. Naturally, the graduation losses of All-Staters John Hansell and Ryan Clarke will be noticeable, but we return a very strong group of runners who have tasted a state championship and are hungry for more. Seniors Hugh Sichel, Zack Guptill, and Jay Humphreys appear to be the pacesetters at this point, but we have a healthy front pack right on their heels, a number of whom may be near a top spot. It's a very tall order to predict another state open victory, but I think we have a shot at some big things, especially if we stay healthy. From an overall talent perspective, I see this team as potentially even better than last year, despite the low numbers and disappointing lack of freshmen. It's a very experienced, deep squad. The guys worked hard this summer and have looked terrific so far in practice, and they are quite confident. We very much look forward to getting things going competitively.
Seniors (8): Kevin DeCapua, Adam Dengler, Zachary Guptill, Gabriel Hack, Jay Humphreys, Hugh Sichel, Eric Winkelstern, Phillip Young
Juniors (4): Brady Clarke, Richard Grudzwick, Greg Hansell, Dylan Nenadal
Sophomores (7): Stosh Davis, Connor Galloway, Nathaniel Diamond, Kevin MacWilliams, Zachary Pitcher, Lucas Simmonds, Eric Vazquez
Freshman (0): Yes, really, Norm -- none.
A talented and as yet unrequited New Milford High School boys' cross country team arrived at the Nov. 2 state open meet and found the door slightly ajar.
As coach Chris Bacich's packs tend to do, they seized on the opportunity.
The Green Wave dominated an otherwise remarkably balanced pool of contenders with a superlative run to claim the coveted State Open championship at Wickham Park in Manchester.
The NMHS boys totaled just 112 points for their first five finishers to easily outleg runner-up Xavier of Middletown's 147-point performance and numerous other title hopefuls for the gold plaque.
Among the pretenders were Newtown, which just two weeks earlier had ended the Green Wave's epic 10-year run as South-West Conference champions, as well as Danbury, which a week earlier had thwarted NMHS' title aspirations in the State Class LL race.
"Having been runnersup at the SWC and Class LL meets really had no effect on our team's overall initiative," said coach Bacich, who's known his share of title celebrations and disappointments during the past dozen years.
"There was no hands-down dominant squad out there, which kept the door at least slightly open for a handful of teams who considered themselves in contention for the crown," he explained.
"At the Opens, it's about being poised and handling pressure while still being aggressive," coach Bacich remarked, "as opposed to going for a run and hoping something good happens."
Well, in this case, the Green Wave proved "poised and handling pressure while still being aggressive," and something good happened.
John Hansell and Ryan Clarke, the Wave's senior co-captains, placed 15th and 19th, respectively, in 16:43 and 16:45 over Wickham's soggy, rolling 5,000-meter course.
They were soon followed by NMHS teammates Jay Humphreys (34th, 17:07), Zach Guptill (37th, 17:09) and Hugh Sichel (69th, 17:29) as the Green Wave made short work of the elite field.
Greg Hansell (134th, 18:09) and Adam Dengler (149th, 18:31) offered support and displacement points to round out the NMHS pack.
"John and Ryan put in All-State efforts -- these two captains have been great in every sense of the word this year," praised coach Bacich. "They seem to thrive in pressure-filled competitions."
The underclassmen did their job, too.
"Jay has simply been tremendous, especially these past few weeks," noted his mentor. "Jay, Zach, and Hugh are all guys with remarkable natural talent, a fine work ethic, and have really learned to race, not just run fast."
"Those three will form the cornerstone of next year's team," said coach Bacich, "which makes me very optimistic."
The state open title is the second in NMHS' 60 years in the sport and, ironically, came just three weeks after the death of Russell Devin, the program's founder and many times championship coach.
The Green Wave also won the state open in 2003 under coach Bacich, the first of two seasons the team also won New England laurels.
NMHS has also won seven state class titles, the first two (1959 and `84) under coach Devin and the last five under coach Bacich.
"As a group, our team has gotten along very well," said the veteran coach. "The common objective of being a great team has made them closer. We've had a nice blend of colorful personalities this team throughout the season. Both playful and silly yet serious and focused."
The rest of Connecticut's best cross country runners woud likely lean a bit more on the "serious and focused" side in analyzing the state open champs.
"I think being undisputed state champions at a specific moment in time can bond high school athletes together," concluded the Green Wave coach, "in some ways probably forever."
Coach Giles Vaughan's Green Wave girls placed 19th of 22 teams in the state open girls' race as Sofia Amaral (68th, 21:00) and Marissa Stumpf (88th, 21:25) showed the way for NMHS.
Also competing were Carly Kleinstern (132nd, 22:06), Jessica Noteware (134th, 22:09), Emily Day (153rd, 22:37), Annelise Gawlak (157th, 22:39) and Alexis Kersten (161st, 22:52).
The Shepaug Valley High Spartans were represented in the boys' race by senior Logan Ross, who claimed 22nd place in 16:47, and by junior Clara Wolfe, who was 70th in the girls' 190-athlete field in 21:02.
The Green Wave boys will shoot for New England honors Saturday in Maine.
"We expect to run well," said coach Bacich. "Each year, Connecticut's top team is always a force to be reckoned with."