2022 CIAC Cross Country Divisional Championships

Today was the Connecticut XC Divisional Championships at Wickham Park in Manchester. Wickham is my favorite park, autumn is my favorite season, and I love cross country running, so this was a near perfect day.

I dropped Shepard off at Bolton High School around 8:40 A.M. so that he could take the bus with the team. Then I rode to work at HORST Engineering, which is is only 1.5 miles from the park. After some time at the shop, I rode over to the park to meet up with Debbie and Dahlia.

The weather was spectacular for both running and spectating. This last weekend in October didn’t disappoint. When I was running cross country more than 30 years ago, these races were referred to as the “Class Championships.” In Connecticut, schools are divided by size (number of student enrolled at each school). There are six divisions, so the divisional championships hosted 12 races.

Girls Divisions:

  • LL Division – 685 and over
  • L Division – 561 – 684
  • MM Division – 406 – 560
  • M Division – 325 – 405
  • SS Division – 227 – 324
  • S Division – Up to 226

Boys Divisions:

  • LL Division – 738 and over
  • L Division – 580 – 737
  • MM Division – 422 – 579
  • M Division – 335 – 421
  • SS Division – 235 – 334
  • S Division – Up to 234

Bolton High School is one of the smallest schools in the state, so we are in S Division. The top teams and individuals in the divisional championships go on to race in the Open Championships. The State Open is next Friday afternoon. Team qualifiers include the top two teams in each division plus the eight fastest (cumulative time) teams who didn’t qualify by placement.

Individual qualifiers include the top 12 finishers in each division plus the 30 fastest finishers who didn’t place. Runners who are part of a qualifying team are not removed from the results. The rules are straightforward, but you have to crunch some numbers to get to the full qualification list.

The Bolton boys and girls teams gave it their all. They have had a good season and this was the most important race of the year. Coach Paul Smith and his assistants, including Coach Matthew Ferraro, have done a fantastic job training the runners. Coach Smith has more than 20 years of experience and has his team’s program dialed in. His track record is stellar. Last year, the girls set the bar high by finishing second overall and qualifying for the State Open, but several top runners graduated. Today they were a respectable fifth place. The runners have trained so hard.

The boys have been consistently good all season. They were second in last week’s NCCC League Championships behind Suffield High School. We knew coming into today’s race that they had an outside chance at finishing second and qualifying for the Open Championship. Shepard follows all the results and statistics and his assessment was that Immaculate and Hale Ray were the favorites among the 21 Class S schools.

Immaculate’s results pointed to them having a lock on the top spot, but there was always a chance Bolton could have a great day couple with an off day for Hale Ray. In the end, that didn’t happen and the boys finished third, which is still a great accomplishment. Several of the boys got personal bests on the tough Wickham Park course.

This was Shepard’s second year on the Bolton team. As a freshman, he ran well, but didn’t qualify for the State Open. Last year, he went to watch his teammate Silas Gourley, who qualified. This year, the Open was one of Shepard’s big objectives. He has put in a lot of work to get faster. Both Silas and Shepard had excellent races today. They went out strong and were just off the front group. Eventually the top two runners, Michael Kraszewski of Hale Ray and Seamus Reidy of Immaculate, pulled away.

Shepard and Silas found themselves battling for third place with a group of five other runners who had separated themselves from the others behind. We were able to watch them at five points on the course plus the finish. Wickham is an awesome venue for XC. Parker Cook of Old Saybrook, Matthew Kraszewski of Hale Ray, and Ben Campion of Somers pulled ahead in the last mile, but Shepard and Silas kept them close. In the end, Shepard closed the gap a little, held off the chasers, and finished 6th. Silas had a good kick and hung on for 9th. Shepard’s time of 17:12 was his personal best for a 5K cross country course.

He was thrilled with his result. He and Silas did the best they could to help the team finish as high as possible. Both boys earned All-State honors and qualified for next Friday’s Open Championship (4 November). They will be back at Wickham Park on the same course at 2:45 P.M. The girls will precede the boys at 2:00 P.M.

All of this running brought back incredible memories for me. I was anxious all week and before the race, I was more nervous than before any of my recent races. I last ran in the State Open in 1989, which was a magical year for my high school cross country team. I really wanted Shepard to experience the same excitement. It would have been awesome for the entire team to qualify, but they will try again next year.

In 2019, on the 30th anniversary of East Catholic’s Divisional Championship win and Open Championship finish (third), I wrote about that season. This afternoon, I shared the blog post with Shepard. He is stoked to be competing next Friday with some of the best runners in Connecticut. I’ll be watching and cheering (loudly).

Divisional Championships Results

NCCC Championships Results (Boys Varsity)

NCCC Championships Results (Girls Varsity)

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