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Cross Country
The Woodstock Academy girls’ team gets ready to race at the Haddad-Windham Invitational Sept. 8 at Windham High School. Matt Roethlein finished second for the Centaurs and 112th in the race at the Haddad-Windham Invitational on Saturday at Windham High School. Marc Allard photos.

WOODSTOCK — Stella DiPippo didn’t have a running partner as a freshman at Woodstock Academy.
She does now.
The sophomore and freshman Linsey Arends will likely make some noise this girls’ cross-country season.
“It’s awesome now that we have a 1-2 punch, hopefully, we will do really well in the regular season meets and in the (Eastern Connecticut Conference championship) as well,” said DiPippo.
The two showed what they could do Sept. 8 at the 40th annual Haddad Windham cross-country Invitational at Windham High School.
DiPippo placed third in the Varsity 2 race while Arends was seventh.
The two led the Centaurs to a fourth-place finish in the race.
The Woodstock Academy boys’ cross-country team placed 18th in the boys Varsity 1 race.
It was supposed to be opposite.
The girls were the ones slated to be in the Varsity 1 race.
But when first-year head coach Joe Banas arrived with the team in Willimantic, he found the situation was flip-flopped.
In the end, it may not have been a bad thing as Banas considered the strong finishes, both individually and as a team, a possible confidence boost.
“We’re a young team in respect to who is scoring,” Banas said. “This team is really built for next year, but I’m not putting any type of goals up until the end, I think we will be in the thick of it come Oct. 18 (for the ECC championship).”
The results could have been even better for Arends.
The freshman was running second midway through the race when leader and eventual winner, Rhiannon Richmond of Avon, began to put some distance between the two.
The problem with being a freshman is that the race courses are longer and unfamiliar.
Arends found that out quickly.
“The girl pulled ahead a little so I couldn’t see her and I thought that we had to go straight because that’s the way we went the first time in that loop. I forgot there was supposed to be an extra turn when we come out of the woods. I thought I just had to go straight, but then I saw girls coming out from the path. I was confused, but then I realized I had gone the wrong way. I was kind of bummed because it was the first race of the season,” Arends said.
Arends tried to fight back but could only get to seventh place.
DiPippo said she saw Arends and the leader up ahead and almost went the wrong way too, but a competitor behind her corrected her.
“I definitely feel bad because she took the longer way,” DiPippo said.
The nice thing about it is that it was a learning tool.
The Windham Invitational is nothing more than a measuring stick.
“(Arends) is such a competitor. She is also a Black Belt and she strives for perfection,” Banas said.
The good thing about the two is that Banas now has a little competition from within and that’s a good thing.
“They can train off each other and, in the end, this is only going to help them both. It’s a friendly rivalry because they are basically neighbors and are friends on and off the course,” Banas said.
DiPippo agreed. “We’ve been running together since middle school so it’s awesome. I’m kind of pacing off her in races. It’s definitely nice to have someone from your team around you,” DiPippo said.
DiPippo finished in 20 minutes, 52 seconds on a course which she considered a bit difficult, in part, because of how she started.
“It was three miles but it felt so much longer,” she said. “I definitely went out a little too hard because I was in front. It was kind of intimidating, but then I settled into a spot. There are a lot of hills, but it was a different cross-country race because there weren’t too many trails.”
It is possible the Centaurs could see the course again at the end of the season as it is the alternate course for the ECC championship should the Norwich Golf Course not be usable.
Arends finished in 20:58.
“I’m happy that, as a freshman running varsity, I did pretty well,” Arends said.
The Centaurs top five runners all placed within the top 50.
Shannon D’Alessandro, the team’s only senior, was 43rd with Emily McClure in 47th and junior captain Megan Gohn in 49th.
“We had five in the top 50 which is beyond what I had hoped for. It may be musical chairs in spots, but that will keep everyone honest, on their toes, to know that their spot isn’t safe. I welcome that decision that I will have to make when I sit down at the end and pick the seven who will go further on. In the meantime, this is good. It’s a very friendly atmosphere for them,” Banas said.
Boys’ race
The Centaurs boys’ team was not as attuned to the results as much as the development of the team.
“You have to get the first race in,” said coach Peter Lusa. “I have kids coming up to me saying ‘Coach, we have to do more hill work or we need to do this kind of workout.’ I told them so when we do these workouts, you will understand why we are doing them and you have to stay focused and will do a good job on them.”
In other cases, a couple of runners came up to him and said they had a lot of energy left at the end of the race which means some fine tuning in race strategy.
“It’s not just show up and run. It’s actually being focused. This is a real focusing mechanism. Even if we didn’t do well or they didn’t think they did well (Saturday), it serves a purpose for the rest of the season,” Lusa added.
The Centaurs finished 18th as a team in the Varsity 1 race with sophomore Ethan Aspiras leading the Centaurs with a 95th-place finish.
But Aspiras and the Centaurs were not focused on that number, they were more worried about individual time. Aspiras was about 30 seconds shy of his intended goal of 18:40, coming home in 19:10.
“The goal was to try and overcome the big hill here, which will probably be the longest hill of the season. I didn’t do that well so it showed I have to work on hills,” Aspiras said. “This is a tough race. It’s only three miles, but it’s hard. The hills are just crazy.”
What made it even worse is that it was only three miles.
Cross-country courses are 1/10th of a mile longer in most cases so whatever their times were Sept. 8, the runners have to add about 45 seconds to get a true total.
In the case of Aspiras, Lusa said he doesn’t want him to get down after just the first race.
Marc Allard
Sports Information Director
The Woodstock Academy