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The Woodstock Academy boys’ cross-country senior John Peabody, left, and girls’ cross-country tri-captains, second left to right, Linsey Arends, Stella DiPippo and Iris Bazinet are getting ready for a different kind of season. Photo by Marc Allard.

Cross-country previews
for Centaurs
Ethan Aspiras would have loved to make the New England boys’ cross-country championship as a junior last season.
But there was no urgency in it. As he said then, “There is always next year.”
At that time in late October of 2019, there were no thoughts of a pandemic that would change the landscape in just about all facets of life including in high school cross-country.
The New England cross-country championship race will not be held this year.
For that matter, neither will the ECC championship race, Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference state championship races or CIAC State Open.
Those are the races that runners traditionally look to build toward throughout the dual meet season in the hopes of peaking at the right time.
It’s a good thing, Aspiras, now a senior, accomplished so much last season.
He was the surprise winner of the ECC championship race and finished fourth in the Class MM state championship meet.
That qualified him for the State Open championship.
He will not get the chance to run in a New England championship race, but there is a caveat - he won his last ECC championship meet.
Few runners can make that claim. There is no doubt that this season will be different.
It will consist of seven dual meets, all taking place in less than a month and all within a half-hour or less of Woodstock.
There are no big goals, no advantage to a runner being at his best in late October, but Woodstock Academy coach Peter Lusa is looking at the bright side.
“I think the season has already been a success,” Lusa said.
That’s because his Woodstock Academy boys’ cross-country team, minus Aspiras, has been outside and practicing together.
“For all of our kids, this is normal – that’s the best thing,” he added. “They show up. They’re excited to see each other. They hang out with their cohort groups. They’re doing the warmups that they did last fall and the practices and feel like, ‘This is a part of my life that is sort of back to normal.’”
Aspiras had not been able to attend the early practices due to transportation issues but was expected to rejoin the team soon. He has been working out on his own.
“We’re stuck at home, doing classes, and this is the one opportunity where we can come, hang out and feel a little normal again,” senior John Peabody said of the resumption of practice. “In virtual school, you see people, their faces, on the I-pad, but it’s not the same interaction. You can’t hang out with people before classes start. Cross-country is the only time we get to see each other.”
Aspiras and Peabody are the only seniors on the team. Other key runners include junior Hans Rynhart, sophomore Vince Bastura, and freshman Joel Koleszar.
As far as competition, that is also changing. The Centaurs will not face the likes of powerhouses like Norwich Free Academy and E. Lyme.
Instead, they will face schools that may or may not have the necessary five runners to make up a team that can score in a high school competition.
“Windham was very small (numbers-wise) and they’re the only team we saw last year. Killingly has small numbers. I don’t know what Parish Hill and Windham Tech have,” Lusa said.
High school meets will be limited to 15 runners per team.
They do not necessarily have to be split evenly and that may give some additional opportunities to Centaur runners.
“I was on the phone with another school’s (athletic director) who said they may have five boys so I asked if we could take up the other 10 spaces and he said he didn’t see why not. I think there will be some wiggle room, but it will have to be decided beforehand and not just the day of the meet,” Lusa said.
There is one advantage to the schedule. The Centaurs normally only have one home meet. This season they have four.
Those meets will likely take place on the South Campus at the school. The cross-country teams normally hold their one home meet of the season at the Woodstock Fairgrounds, but due to Covid-19, that venue is not available.
Lusa has also been trying to be a little inventive.
“The coaches have been trying to give us ways to have competition other than the meets that we do have like time trials against each other just to build goals and motivation,” Peabody said.
Lusa has also looked into a different kind of championship activity.
Like everything else in this pandemic-plagued world, cross-country is going virtual.
“We are courting the idea of participating in the Nike national virtual meet where runners put together seven times. They have to wear an app that logs in (the time) for them and we may have some of our better runners doing that,” Lusa said.

Girls’ Cross-Country preview

Full speed ahead for Centaurs
The Woodstock Academy girls’ cross-country coach Joe Banas is sure of one thing.
“We’re not going backwards,” Banas said. “We’re going to stay where we were because the future looks bright. We’re only going to be losing two seniors. Hopefully, this (pandemic goes away) and we can have a real season next year. I always tell them the glass is half full, it’s never half empty.”
The Centaurs, as a team and as individuals, had goals for this season.
Woodstock Academy had hopes of ending East Lyme’s four-year stranglehold on the ECC championship title.
Junior Linsey Arends had hoped to finally catch fellow junior, Jordan Malloy of Bacon Academy, who narrowly beat her to the line to win the ECC championship last year.
Senior Stella DiPippo had hoped to better her fourth place finish in the league meet and both were looking forward to the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference Class MM state championship meet.
Arends finished second in that event last year, DiPippo seventh.
Both qualified for the State Open championship where Arends missed qualifying for the New England championship by eight places. She finished in 33rd. Just five places behind Malloy.
All of that has been put on hold by the pandemic.
“I’m definitely disappointed,” Arends said. “I was looking forward to running against Jordan Malloy and a lot of the other really fast girls again. It’s kind of a bummer but it is what it is.”
Arends will have another chance to compete in those events next season. DiPippo and fellow senior tri-captain, Iris Bazinet, will not.
“The past three years I’ve been looking forward to my senior season and the big meets, but now it’s just (north)eastern Connecticut schools and there is not much competition. It’s pretty tough,” DiPippo said.
The Centaurs will be running against teams who, for the most part, will struggle just to field teams.
DiPippo has a goal for herself this season. Get healthy.
She’s been battling injuries early on and just wants to gradually better her times over the course of the season which should help the Centaurs achieve a collective goal.
“Hopefully, as a team, we can go undefeated,” DiPippo said.
For Bazinet, the four years of high school have gone by in just about race speed.
“It’s definitely gone by fast. Freshman year seems minutes ago. I’m going to miss this. Hopefully, we will have an (outdoor) track season,” Bazinet said.
Arends, also a tri-captain, looks at it as a chance to improve.
“It’s a good build up in training even though we won’t have a lot of the big competitions. Hopefully, next year we will just come out with a bang,” Arends said.
Arends and DiPippo will have competition from within according to Banas.
Sophomore Brooke Bergevin has overcome some health issues and has been pretty impressive early.
“She was the winner of our annual time trial at the West Thompson Dam course and she will give both Linsey and Stella a run for their money. It will be the big three instead of the dynamic duo of the previous two years,” Banas said.
Other top runners include junior Leah Castle and sophomores Avery Mowrey, Tessa Brown, and Carah Bruce. The top freshman runners include Talia Tremblay and Julia Coyle.
Banas was pleased with the turnout overall. He has 20 runners out for the team.
And he, like his athletes, is just happy to be doing something normal.
“I know, myself, in the spring, I was bored. Coaches need to coach and runners need to run,” Banas said with a smile.

Boys’ and Girls’ Schedule:
Wed., Oct. 7:  vs. Ellis Tech, 4 p.m.; Sat., Oct. 10: at Parish Hill, 9:30 a.m.; Sat., Oct. 17: vs. Killingly, 10 a.m.; Wed., Oct. 21: at Tourtellotte, 4:30 p.m.; Sat., Oct. 24: vs. Windham Tech, 10 a.m.; Wed., Oct. 28: at Windham, 4 p.m.
Marc Allard
Director of Sports Information
The Woodstock Academy



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