In the girls cross country dual-meet showdown among the FCIAC's three unbeaten division leaders on Tuesday afternoon in Westport, host Staples beat Fairfield Warde and Ridgefield, as well as Norwalk and Brien McMahon, to raise its conference record to 11-0. The Staples boys, who had lost to Darien and Danbury earlier this month, improved to 9-2 by defeating Warde, Ridgefield, Norwalk and McMahon as well.
The Ridgefield girls (10-1), leaders of the FCIAC Central, edged East front-running Warde 27-29, but lost to Staples, of the FCIAC West, 25-32, in addition to defeating Norwalk and McMahon. The Mustangs (8-2) lost to Staples 23-36, but defeated Norwalk 15-49 and McMahon 19-44. On the boys side, Warde (6-4) beat McMahon 22-42 and Norwalk 23-37, but was defeated by Staples 20-37 and by Ridgefield (9-2) 24-31.
The girls race featured a duel between undefeated runners. Staples sophomore Hannah DeBalsi, set her fourth course record in four races this fall, by beating Warde senior Cate Allen, who was the runner up. DeBalsi covered the 4,400-meter course (2.76 miles) in 15 minutes and 23 seconds, with Allen finishing in 16:20.
"We want to win, and we want everyone to improve," said Wreckers' veteran running coach Laddie Lawrence, the boys cross country head coach and the assistant to Amanda Parrish for the girls. "I think this was an important (team) win. When you see three great teams together, you want to come out on top."
"A lot of our guys (boys and girls) ran hard today," said Tim Foster, head coach of both Warde teams.
"We knew it was going to be a highly competitive race. We knew it was going to be one of if not the most difficult meet of the season. Staples and Ridgefield (girls) are two of the top 10 teams in the state."
The showdown between DeBalsi and Allen didn't last for long. Allen, who defeated DeBalsi in the dual-meet season in 2012, was close behind as the course was moving toward the first mile marker leaving the Staples track before looping around the school and the athletic fields. Lawrence, who biked the course, said DeBalsi began to pull away in the next half-mile. Allen said the beginning of the separation between them was a combination of a successful move to pull ahead by DeBalsi and Allen starting to fade some.
"I didn't feel my best," Allen said. "Hannah had a great race." Foster said DeBalsi is a great runner.
"The plan was for me to take it out hard," DeBalsi said. "There was just two days between races for me. I felt good considering." She won the Large Division Varsity race Saturday at the Stratton Brook Invitational in Simsbury.
Following Allen was Ridgefield sophomore Laura Hergenrother (17:01) in third, Erica Hefnawy (17:09) of Staples fourth, Kristin Burnham (17:25) of McMahon fifth, Elisabeth French (17:31) of Staples sixth, Melissa Budicini (17:38) of Ridgefield seventh, Sarah Mickool (17:40) of Ridgefield eighth, Sarah Radziewicz (18:00) of Warde ninth and Kelly Powlishen (18:02) of Warde 10th.
McMahon sophomore Eric van der Els won the 5,000-meter (3.14 miles) boys race in 16:16, with Staples junior Oliver Hickson second in 16:32 and Warde senior Aidan Fiol (16:51) third. Three Staples runners tried to cross the finish line in-hand, each in 17:03, to finish fourth, fifth and sixth -- Peter Elkind, Jake Berman and Chase Gornbein. Norwalk's Ezequiel Rodriguez (17:14) was seventh, followed by Ridgefield's Clint Corso (17:36) eighth, Ridgefield's Graeme Hewett (17:38) ninth and Norwalk's Christian Bonebrake (17:46) 10th.
Foster was encouraged by the emergence of three boys runners. Sophomore Charlie Kieffer ran his first race of the season and was among one of the top five finishers for the Mustangs. Freshman Quinn Herman and Will Brisman were in the Warde top 10 on Tuesday as well in their first varsity competition of the fall after showing promise in the novice races.
"Having all three run together today was nice," said Foster.
Their continued improvement would give the Mustangs more depth.