The News-Times

Glastonbur­y, New Milford cross country headed for collision course


Glastonbur­y, to no surprise, captured the CIAC Class LL girls cross country championsh­ip Monday at Wickham Park in Manchester. New Milford, with each runner wearing the name of a teammate clasped to her shoelace, did the same in Class L. Also, no surprise. This does not mean the day was without its drama. Nor, with the State Open at Wickham on Friday, does it mean the drama involving the two schools has nearly ended.

New Milford competed with only six runners in the Class L race, one freshman Kat Taborsak, another junior Ellie Rainey. One would be the fifth runner. With no star Claire Daniels, out with an illness, there was plenty of pressure to produce in the last-scoring spot.

“Ellie has had her ups and downs and some health issues along the way,” coach Giles Vaughn said. “About halfway through the race, at the top of the Green Monster, she made an aggressive move on a pack of New Canaan girls. She took some chances I’d never seen her take.”

Vaughn could see Rainey had put herself in a strong position. He also could see she had extended herself.

“I was just hoping she could hang on,” Vaughn said. “I caught her again with about 400 meters left, she was back and forth with the New Canaan girls. I’m going, ‘Stay with them!’

“She crosses the road and toward the finish chute and drops to her knees. Probably 250 meters (from the finish line). She starts getting sick. I’m like, ‘Oh, my gosh!’ She’s crawling. ‘You OK, Ellie? You OK?’ She gets up to her feet and she finishes.”

Riley Shipman, Elizabeth McLaughlin and Sofia Madrazo of New Canaan finished 16th, 17th, 18th in a four-second span of 21:3422:38. Rainey lost about 30 seconds. She finished 27th at 22:03, one place and three seconds ahead of teammate Taborsak. Kat had her covered. New Milford outlasted runner-up New Canaan, 55-68.

Rainey collapsed after the finish line. Her blood sugar, Vaughn said, was really low. They got Rainey

back in gear and smiling for the championsh­ip team picture.

“Ellie gave everything she had,” Vaughn said. “That is the gutsiest race I’ve seen.”

This is a column about the New Milford girls cross country team. This is a column FOR the football players and football fans who may not appreciate the competitiv­eness, the rigors, the sacrifice made for one another in a sport that requires no helmet. As Ellie Rainey demonstrat­ed near the end of a 5,000-meter (3.1 mile) footrace, distance runners may have low body-fat, but they’ve got big hearts. During this championsh­ip week, they deserve a chunk of the lion’s share of autumn attention directed to football.

“We are a really tightknit group,” Vaughn said. “We have three amazing captains (including injured Leah Farrell) who have been friends a long time. The kids have really bought into the culture of selflessne­ss. We run for each other. It’s something we talk about almost daily.”

Thus, the silver clasps with a teammate’s name to remind them.

Vaughn describes himself as a running and coaching junkie. He has reached out to coaches of the best programs in the country for ideas.

“One of the pieces we put into our program during the pandemic was mental training,” Vaughn said. “We do a lot of that. Race visualizat­ions. Remaining positive as we can. We have a book club. We’ve read a couple books on it.

“A substantia­l part of our culture is if you can run each for each other, it really takes pressure off the individual. You aren’t thinking about yourself.”

Which brings us to the State Open.

In the latest coaches’ poll, Glastonbur­y, led by freshman Brooke Strauss, is No. 1 in Connecticu­t with nine first-place votes. New Milford is second with six.

Sydney Kelleher, who has been right there with Daniels all season, won the Class L race in 19:13. Maddie Sweeney (third) and Mya Morabito (10th) also earned All-State honors.

With New Milford’s top girls running into July at the track nationals, time was given to rest and recharge. They didn’t run in the Stratton Brook Invitation­al in Simsbury on Sept. 11. With Strauss, Jacqueline Caron and Ava Gattinella finishing 1, 2, 4, Glastonbur­y rolled to the team title. New Milford’s Izzy Greene, who finished 14th in Class L, was the Green Wave’s first finisher at 11th that day.

The early showdown between Glastonbur­y and New Milford was delayed until Oct. 2 at the Woods Trail Run in Thetford, Vermont. Well, guess what? Strauss didn’t run that day. With Daniels (19:11) and Kelleher (19:23) finishing one-two, New Milford won the team title 60-80.

“I think a lot of the coaches saw what happened at Thetford and Glastonbur­y didn’t have their No. 1,” said Vaughn, who has voted his own team first in the poll. “I told the girls with what we’ve done and when we’re 100 percent we have earned it.”

Daniels (19:02) and Kelleher (19:16) also ran 1-2 with at the Bowdoin Park Classic on Sept. 25 in Wappingers Falls, N.Y. New Milford took second behind powerhouse Haddonfiel­d, N.J.

“Choosing those two invites really paid off for us,” Vaughn said. “They were two high-profile, really big meets. The start had fallen apart for us at Thetford.

We got caught behind the whole pack, the course narrows after 300 meters and the girls did everything in their power to get back in position. We gained experience.”

The decision to give early season challenges to the back end of the lineup paid off. Morabito, whose sister Brooke is an outstandin­g runner at Central Connecticu­t, especially stepped up. So has Taborsak, whose brother A.J. finished 22nd in the Class L boys race.

Yet with no Daniels it would be hard to see New Milford beat Glastonbur­y. If everybody runs it could be a classic duel.

Daniels, who has gone under 19 minutes at Wickham and won the Class L meet as a freshman, took second in the State Open and seventh in the New England championsh­ips. As a sophomore, she was second in Class L, sixth in the State Open and 15th in New England. COVID canceled everything last year. Somers’ Rachel St. Germain, who won Class S at 18:42, and Ridgefield’s Katherine Rector, who outran Strauss to win Class LL at 19:01 stand as favorites. There is a whole lot of New Milford and Glastonbur­y heat behind them.

“This is Claire’s year to shine,” Vaughn said. “We finally graduated Kate Wiser (of Pomperaug). Claire won Bowdoin and Thetford. But like I told Claire. Whether you are out there racing Friday like you want to be or standing there cheering, your leadership the last two weeks in making the girls comfortabl­e and confident they could do it without you (Monday) went a long way in their belief in themselves.”

Not feeling well, Daniels still took second behind Kelleher as New Milford won the South-West Conference title on Oct. 20 with a dominating 19 points.

“It was amazing, Claire feeling like she did, finished so well,” Vaughn said.

Daniels recently committed to Penn State to run. Sweeney recently committed to UConn. Working around the invite schedule, the two were gone almost every weekend on college visits. Vaughn said Daniels visited Georgetown and Sweeney visited Michigan State and BU. They both visited Delaware and UConn.

“There’s pressure going through the process,” Vaughn said. “It’s a big decision.”

New Milford had the second fastest team time Monday, 55 seconds behind Glastonbur­y. You pull out the fifth runner and replace her with Daniels, there’s obviously a major difference. Vaughn pointed out New Milford ran a 1:39:13 combined time at the SWC meet in Bethel, a course comparable to Wickham. Glastonbur­y ran 1:42 Monday.

With the rain Saturday, the Class races were moved back to Monday. It was a wet, demanding slog that left only three days’ recuperati­on before the State Open. As big a believer in pack running as he is, Vaughn recognizes recovery is an individual process. He listens to each athlete. Ordinarily, he sends out a weekly schedule. This week he didn’t. He didn’t know what would happen.

“I have a lot of respect for coach (Brian) Collins,” Vaughn said. “Glastonbur­y’s program is amazing. We’ve exchanged a few friendly emails. I told him I remember going to his distance clinics, to try to figure what he does over there and get my program like his. We joked back and forth. We knew we’d see each other again.”

 ?? H John Voorhees III / Hearst Connecticu­t Media ?? New Milford’s Claire Daniels, who finished second, runs in the the girls dual cross country meet between Pomperaug and New Milford high schools on Oct. 20 at New Milford High School.
H John Voorhees III / Hearst Connecticu­t Media New Milford’s Claire Daniels, who finished second, runs in the the girls dual cross country meet between Pomperaug and New Milford high schools on Oct. 20 at New Milford High School.
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