Undaunted by a recent loss of one of its top skiers to injury, the presence of some strong competition, and the pressure of wearing the proverbial target as defending champions and having had an undefeated in the regular season, the Fairfield co-op girls ski team raced to another title at Mount Southington on Wednesday.
Fairfield captured the Connecticut Interscholastic Ski League State Open championship for the second year in a row, edging Staples, of Westport, to lead a field of 10 high school teams down the mountain.
The defending champion Fairfield boys finished 10th.
Cumulative team times factor in the combined two-run times of the fastest six of 10 racers from each team. Fairfield didn't have the fastest, nor did it have the second-, third-, of fourth-speediest girls skier. But it did have a trio of top 20 racers and a strong overall team effort to prevail.
Sarah Mason, who finished fifth, led the way for Fairfield with a pair of runs in times of 24.39 and 24.08 for a total of 48.47, not far off from overall winner Martina Maroun, of Joel Barlow (48.27).
Each of Fairfield's top six times added up to 303.11. Staples' total came to 306.92.
"It was awesome," Fairfield coach Gary Quiricone said of the outcome. "They worked really hard all season."
The coach said the girls were Class L regular season champions with a 16-0 record in their 19-0 regular- season record against teams from all classes. This is Fairfield's sixth team title, going back to 1998 when there was one high school. The team won it in 2011 and Staples came out on top a year later.
Fairfield's top six, following Mason, were: Sydney Burton (49.62) in 12th place overall; Megan O'Hare (50.14) 18th; Lauren Craighead (51.30) 25th; Flossie Dewar (51.71) 28th; and Kaylie Minogoe (51.87) 31st.
"We were racing without one of our top racers, which definitely made it uneasy," said Wiant, a captain, referring to fellow captain Kelsey Tague.
Despite injuring her knee only about a week before the big race, Tague had a positive attitude about things as she watched her teammates prevail.
"It was really exciting watching from the bottom and cheering everybody on," Tague said. She added that, after the first run for each school, the race scoring was really close.
"Every turn, every run counts," Quiricone added.
A key to success for the Fairfield girls was that they were pushed by Staples even before the championship race. The Wreckers had a better team time than Fairfield in a late-season race but the teams weren't going head to head on that day, so it didn't impact the records. But it certainly had a lasting effect on the Fairfield girls, who came away from that competition with a desire to get faster and avenge what was a loss in their minds.
"I think that's the reason we came out on top," said Burton, another captain. "It was very, very exciting -- especially as a senior."
Another difference-maker, in the eyes of Quiricone, is that his team had a couple of strong practices on the Thursday and Monday leading up to the Open. He said the skiers worked hard on course tactics and were ready to race.
"They've been preparing for this," he said. "They knew what they had to do individually and as a team, and they got it done."
On the boys' side, Greenwich was the surprise winner, Quiricone said. Greenwich had a total of 298.63. Fairfield Prep, led by eighth-place overall finisher Sam Cusick (48.36), was fourth with a team time of 301.73. The Fairfield co-op boys were 10th among 13 schools with a total of 311.46. Fairfield was led by Matt Chan, who came in 16th, with a combined time of 49.38.
Quiricone noted that it was any team's race for the course conditions deteriorated by the time the boys got their second runs in.
"I'm very proud of their effort also," said the coach, adding that the boys got faster every week en route to a 17-8 regular season record. He said he is optimistic about next year because of this year's team's youth.
Andy Hutchison is a freelance reporter