'Time to
get serious'
Oct. 12 Woodstock Academy girls’ cross-country coach Joe Banas was busily getting prepared for one of the toughest workouts of the season.
He felt the Centaurs needed it, because their toughest races of the season lie just ahead; the Eastern Connecticut Conference championship race Oct. 18 and the state championship races take place on Oct. 27.
Both are held on traditional cross-country courses with grass, hills and, yes especially this year, mud.
So, Banas set up a quarter-mile practice course within the Centaurs home course on Stonebridge Road.
It went up a particularly nasty uphill, with the mud already in evidence, and back down with more mud waiting for the runners.
This wasn’t a workout to build speed, but more importantly, strength.
He then warned the boys’ and girls’ teams of his plans.
The regular season is over, it was time to get serious.
The Centaurs girls finished with a 10-1 mark after scoring wins over Norwich Free Academy, Stonington and Windham in their only home meet of the season Oct. 9.
“According to (former coach) John Ywarsky, we hadn’t beaten either Stonington or NFA in a long time. It was on the bucket list. That was big. I was happy that (Ywarsky) was here to see it,” said Banas.
The Centaurs downed Stonington, 21-35, and NFA, 24-31. Windham brought several runners but opted not to compete, giving Woodstock Academy the 15-50 forfeit victory.
Linsey Arends and Stella DiPippo were first and second again with the freshman crossing the line in 21 minutes, 32 seconds with the sophomore 17 seconds back.
Iris Bazinet and Shannon D’Alessandro were sixth and seventh in the race with Julia Theriaque in 14th.
For the Centaurs to do well in the ECC championship at the Norwich Golf Course, the girls behind Arends and DiPippo will have to move up.
“The pack needs to get moving,” Banas said.
In the home meet, D’Alessandro started slow.
She was 50 meters back of a pack of NFA and Stonington runners at the mile mark.
D’Alessandro caught up to all but three of them by the end of the race.
“I wasn’t panicking (at the mile mark) because that is Shannon’s M.O. She goes out, knows her pace and sticks with it throughout,” Banas said. “I knew if she maintained that pace, (the NFA and Stonington runners) were coming back to her.”
Banas wanted to make sure that his team would not be the ones coming back to the pack in the league championship meet, thus the strength workout.
The Centaurs can still tie for the Division I title if they beat East Lyme in the championship race.
“I’m still looking at the ECC’s. I’m not giving up hope yet. This team will not go down without a fight. East Lyme has to be perfect and in a big meet, crazy things happen,” Banas said. “At the moment, being second out of 19 teams in the conference, I’m so proud of these girls. I’ve walked into something great.”
Not only do the Centaurs have a chance at the team championship, two of their runners have to be considered potential ECC individual champs.
Arends and DiPippo should give defending champion Mady Whittaker of Montville a challenge.
DiPippo finished third in the championship race as a freshman.
She was all of 1 minute, 2 seconds behind the Montville senior.
Now, she has to not only contend with Whittaker, but also her teammate, Arends, Bacon Academy freshman Jordan Malloy and St. Bernard junior Brigid Kunka.
“There are definitely a lot of fast girls. It’s going to be hard, but I’m going to go for it,” DiPippo said. “The golf course is tough, but it makes it interesting. It’s more fun to run than just a flat race.”
DiPippo added she will be treading a fine line.
She doesn’t want to start too fast.
If that happens, “the race usually goes terrible for me,” she said.
But she also doesn’t want to be too far back, because it’s easy to get bodied out of the front pack and it’s difficult to make up the ground lost early.
Arends will find that out.
She is running in the ECC championship and on the Norwich Golf Course for a first time.
But Banas points out that there is a lot of reason for optimism.
Both Arends and Whittaker ran in the Wickham Invitational albeit in different races.
But both ran on the same course, in the same conditions and Arends was eight seconds faster.
“Mady will be the favorite, she is the defending champion and has those wheels at the end,” Banas said. “Are they the favorites? No. But, Stella and Linsey are in the conversation.”

Boys’ cross-country
The Centaurs boys’ team finished above .500 for the regular season.
That was not easy considering it moved up to Division I in the Eastern Connecticut Conference this season where it finished 0-3.
“We knew before the season started, unless someone else had a really bad year, that we would be struggling to catch up to them. We don’t have that running culture here, “said coach Peter Lusa.
The Centaurs finished up the season with a 23-32 win over Stonington and a 15-50 victory over Windham although they lost to Norwich Free Academy, 16-47.
Lusa was pleased with the effort of sophomore Ethan Aspiras who finished sixth in the race Oct. 9 in 19:01.
Kenneth Birlin finished 11th just 40 seconds behind Aspiras, Hamilton Barnes was 14th, Matt Rothlein 17th and Evan Gianfriddo 19th.
“The kids ran well on their home course which is another feather in their cap. A great effort on their part,” Lusa said.
It was, also, almost a new experience.
While it is their home course, they hadn’t practiced on it all that much during the season.
“It used to be, when we used this area (near the Woodstock Fair horse show rings) for football (practice), we would be down here the first week of school and it became, our place. They love to train here,” Lusa said.
The goal for the boys’ team is much more conservative than the girls.
“Running their best, returners beating their time from last year, newcomers get a chance to see how they do,” Lusa said. “It’s a big meet. There are a lot of kids to run with some we have never seen before and it will be great to see how our kids will do. There is no overarching goal. Two years ago, we tied for first in the Medium Division (now Division II) and then we get thrown back in the Large (Division I) so it will take us a few years to sort back out.”
Marc Allard
Sports Information Director
The Woodstock Academy


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