Boys’ Cross Country
The Woodstock Academy boys’ cross-country captains Ethan Aspiras, Tristan Monahan and Evan Gianfriddo limber up prior to practice on South Campus. Photo by Marc Allard.

The Woodstock Academy girls’ cross-country team is looking to compete for an Eastern Connecticut Conference championship this season.
The boys may not be in that same position quite yet.
But can the potential success of the girls’ team rub off on the boys’ squad?
“Absolutely,” said Centaurs boys’ cross-country coach Peter Lusa who enters his 11th year at the helm of the program. “Now, having taught (at Killingly High School) when Meghan Owen ran, it didn’t rub off so much on the boys there, in fact, it didn’t even rub off on her (girls’) team. She was like a solo runner. There is some rub off, though. The girls pay attention to the directions and they tell the boys and the boys pay attention to them. It leads to a more cohesive team and I’m really pleased with how it’s working here. It’s something I’ve tried to do for several seasons, get the two teams working together.”
Junior captain Ethan Aspiras agreed.
“The girls’ success can help us because we’ve watched them progress. They are a completely different team than my first year here. Seeing that change and how a team can become successful can, hopefully, influence us to also progress and in years to come also be much better,” Aspiras said.
The Centaurs did compete in Division 1 of the ECC last year for a first time in a while and found out how difficult it was.
The Centaurs finished 6-8 overall, but were 0-6 in the Division.
Lusa doesn’t expect it will be much easier this season.
“(Coach) Chad Johnson is not at (Norwich Free Academy), we will see how that shakes out. I know they have another coach who has just moved over, but they have been slackening a little bit. The East Lyme boys (ECC and Class MM state champions last year) will be good again. I think it will be a good season. We will see how we do in our opener against Waterford, The Lancers are still looking pretty good,” Lusa said.
That first meet with Waterford, Killingly and Wheeler is Sept. 10 at Owen Bell Park in Dayville.
Before that, the Centaurs will participate in the season-opening event for most, the 41st annual Haddad Windham Invitational at Windham High School Sept. 7.
 “It’s a lot of tar. It’s also 3 miles and not 3.1 so the times are a bit faster. Some run in the freshmen or JV races so teams don’t run together as a pack. There may be kids separated by races who are not running with who they are used to running with; that can be both good and bad. It’s a good shake-out meet. No high expectations. If they run a little faster and times are a little better, that just gets it in their head that they can run these times and when they go to 3.1 miles with hills, and soft gravel, and they do it again, we can talk about doing better on harder courses,” Lusa said.
The Centaurs did lose a little of their glue when Kenneth Birlin graduated.
They also lost Noah Pepper, Holden Pimental, and Spencer Collins.
But Lusa has been pleased with the turnout.
“You always want more, but we have a good smattering of (athletes from) all the grades so it bodes well for the future,” Lusa said.
The leader of the pack will be Aspiras.
Some of that progress Aspiras talked about, he has begun to see happen.
“I’ve been telling my friends, I can’t believe we’re juniors already. It seems like yesterday that I came to this track for the first cross-country practice,” Aspiras said. “The team has been getting better and better since I first came. It’s great to see that.”
But progress in cross-country doesn’t come without work, especially in the summer.
Aspiras said he put in 405 miles during the offseason.
It wasn’t quite what he wanted to reach.
His goal was 450.
“But, it’s a lot better than last year,” Aspiras said with a smile.
Aspiras finished 21st in the ECC championship race (18 minutes, 35 seconds) and 30th in the Class MM state meet (17:57) in 2018.
“I am definitely looking forward to finish in the top-10 in the ECC and definitely want to qualify for the State Open championship,” Aspiras said.
Lusa is confident that Aspiras can reach his goals this season.
“I have to hold him back a little (early) and then let him go when it’s time,” Lusa said. “Coach (Josh) Welch and Coach (Joe) Banas are keyed in with that. I’m taking more of an administrative role, getting all that stuff done and they’re in charge of dialing in workouts.”
Aspiras will be joined in the captain’s role by seniors Evan Gianfriddo and Tristan Monahan.
“Tristan went away to running camp this year,” Lusa said. “He came back asking me all these questions like ‘Is this why you made us do all these workouts? The coach there was saying these are great’ It was awesome to have him ask, ‘What do I do if this happens?’ Other summers, it was just crickets and I was like ‘Tristan, are you out there?’
Other key runners include junior Cody Currie and sophomore Hamilton Barnes.
“(Hamilton) is the person right behind me right now. Hamilton has been following my times as a sophomore so that’s pretty good to see that happen, having a younger person following what you have been doing and, hopefully, maybe even do better than I did in past years,” Aspiras said.
Other returning members of the team include senior Ben Green, junior John Peabody, and sophomores Hans Rhynhart and Noah Salsich.
The newcomers include juniors Pablo Lopez, Avery Pajak, Thomas Walden, Aaron Allard, Maxwell Auker, Vince Bastura, Lance LaFemina, Adam Thompson and Jacob Vadeboncoeur.
The cross-country teams also had a little advantage.
They were allowed to practice a week earlier than the other programs such as soccer, field hockey and volleyball.
Football was the only other team practicing prior to last Thursday.
It was something that Lusa didn’t even realize.
“I didn’t think of that,” he said with a
laugh. “I asked someone and they said everyone had started already. It does feel nice. We didn’t have to battle for (space on the) buses.”
Boys’ cross-country schedule
Saturday, Sept. 7:  at Haddad-Windham Invitational, TBA
Tuesday, Sept. 10: at Killingly with Wheeler , Waterford ( Owen Bell Park), 3:45 p.m.
Tuesday, Sept. 17: Ledyard, Norwich Free Academy at Woodstock Academy, 4 p.m.
Sat., 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.
Saturday, Oct. 5:    at Auburn, MA. 2:30 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
Sat., Oct. 26:  at Class MM state championship (at Wickham Park, E. Hartford), 1:35 p.m.
Marc Allard, Director of Sports Information
The Woodstock Academy


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