Cross Country
Left to right: Lynsey Arends, Megan Gohn and Stella DiPippo participate in a preseason work out on the South Campus track at The Woodstock Academy. Photo by Marc Allard.

High expectations.
That’s what the Woodstock Academy girls’ cross-country team carries into the 2019 season which begins Sept. 7 with the 41st annual Haddad Windham Invitational meet at Windham High School.
“Really, really badly,” senior captain Megan Gohn said when asked how much the Centaurs want to win their first Eastern Connecticut Conference championship. “Especially with this being my senior year, I want to get one before I graduate.”
She is not the only one hankering for a title.
Second-year coach Joe Banas is also thirsty for one.
“It would be huge because it’s never happened. (The Academy) won back in the days of the (Quinebaug Valley Conference). I’ve won as a runner. I’ve been on a national championship, a New England championship, a state championship, and on a conference championship team. But as a coach, I’ve never had a title. At 62 years-old, I would love to be involved in that. To get a banner in the gym that says, ‘ECC champions,’ (would be great),” Banas said.
But not easy to accomplish.
To try and make it happen, Banas is digging deep into his book of tricks.
He wants to bring the team closer together as a unit and he’s doing so from the bottom up.
Banas has 10 freshmen on the team and 10 runners with experience.
Put the two together and see what happens.
To encourage the growth of the younger runners, both mentally and physically, he has set up a mentor program with established runners working with the newcomers.
“I can’t remember where I found it, but there was research that if you have a mentor-mentee program set up, the chances of a girl finishing all four years of running cross-country are over two-thirds. To me, that means seven out of the 10 girls here. If you don’t have it in place, the percentage drops to under 50 percent which is 4 of 10. That means I’m gaining three additional girls if I use this strategy. It’s a great way of bringing newbies into the fold,” Banas said. “They were making friends with the seniors even before they came on campus and I don’t want any girl left out. I want to create a little family atmosphere here.”
“I really think that’s important,” Gohn said. “When I was a freshman we didn’t have that program. Coming from middle school to high school, even without sports, is pretty daunting and joining a big sport like this, it’s good to have a mentor to guide you through that first semester.”
Gohn said it’s been effective so far, especially getting the youngsters adjusted to the new expectations of the program.
“Middle school is very relaxed whereas the competitiveness in high school is ramped up a lot. We just work on them, trying to make them not feel as much pressure as they might and
their (running) form is also a big thing,” she said.
The new runners do have a couple of older teammates to model themselves after.
Junior Stella DiPippo and sophomore Lynsey Arends led the Centaurs to a 12-2 overall record and a 4-2 mark in ECC Division I in 2018.
Their only two regular-season losses came against East Lyme which was also the only team to best them in the ECC championship, 57-83.
Arends finished third in the ECC championship race (20 minutes, 54 seconds) while DiPippo placed fifth in 21:07.
Arends went on to finish 10th in the Class MM state championship race and qualified for the State Open.
Both have improved.
Banas encourages runners to do, at least, 200 miles of running over the summer beginning on June 1.
Arends completed around 350 miles, third-best on the team.
She has also grown about 4 inches in height and put on a little weight which makes her a little stronger.
“I think her eyes were opened last year and she really wants it this year. I can see she’s coming into the season with the ‘I want to see what else I can do attitude’ and wants to turn it up a notch,” Banas said.
DiPippo put on 475 miles over the offseason, the most of anyone on the boys’ or girls’ team.
“Stella broke 20 (minutes) over the summer and Lynsey is determined not to let Stella beat her this season,” Gohn said with a laugh.
That interior competition is not a negative.
“The competitiveness within the team is healthy,” Gohn said. “It pushes us in practice a lot and in our meets, too. Sometimes, girls from other teams are not around us so having them 1-2 right next to each other pushes them to faster times.”
The Centaurs did lose a couple of runners.
Shannon D’Alessandro, who was one of the top five runners on the team, graduated, and Emily McClure opted to concentrate on another activity.
The team, however, did get Julia Theriaque back.
The senior had been on the sidelines since the indoor track season with a hip problem.
“We shut her down for four months and she hasn’t run much over the summer but the last couple of days, she has been showing a lot of heart. You can’t teach being an athlete; she has that athletic talent already built in. She says she’s feeling good,” Banas said.
Gohn and junior Iris Bazinet return and also filled top five spots for the Centaurs last year.
Also back is another senior captain, Alexia Bourbeau, and sophomore Leah Castle.
The freshmen may also be heard from.
Banas likes what he has seen in newcomers Brooke Bergivin, Avery Mowrey, and Tessa Brown.
“Bergivin went to Woodstock Middle School and ran over 400 miles this summer, but we had to shut her down for the moment because she has Achilles’ tendinitis. Avery is from Brooklyn and I believe was second in the Quinebaug Valley Junior Conference championship (last season). Brooklyn has been great to us the past two years with Stella and Lynsey and maybe this will be another great gift from Brooklyn Middle School,” Banas said.
The ECC won’t be easy, however.
“I understand that (East Lyme coach) Mike Flynn has all five of his girls back and I know that NFA has its No. 1 back from two years ago and a freshman. NFA got stronger and I really see Division I, because you never know what Fitch will have, being as tough as the MM in the states,” Banas said.
Girls’ cross-country schedule
Saturday, Sept. 7:  at Haddad-Windham Invitational, TBA
Tuesday, Sept. 10: at Killingly with Wheeler and Waterford (at Owen Bell Park), 3:45 p.m.
Tuesday, Sept. 17: Ledyard, Norwich Free Academy at Woodstock Academy, 4 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 28: at Ocean State Invitational (at Goddard State Park, Warwick, R.I.), TBA
Tuesday, Oct. 1:     at Fitch with Bacon Academy (at Haley Farm State Park), 4:30 p.m.
Thursday, Oct. 10: at East Lyme (at Rocky Neck State Park), 4:30 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 12:  at Wickham Park Invitational (at Wickham Park, East Hartford), TBA
Thursday, Oct. 17: at ECC championship (at Norwich Golf Course), TBA
Saturday, Oct. 26:  at Class MM state championship (at Wickham Park, East Hartford), 1 p.m.
Marc Allard
Director of Sports Information
The Woodstock Academy


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