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In dominating fashion, Canton boys win 1st title

The Canton High boys won their first-ever league championship in cross country.

WINDSOR LOCKS, Oct. 23 – A few hours before last Friday’s NCCC championship meet, Canton High coach Tim O’Donnell took his boys cross country team into the school gymnasium. He asked them to take a closer look at the dozens of league and state championship banners that hang on the walls.

His point? There was nothing hanging from the rafters from a boys cross country team.

Canton, which rolled through the dual meet season with a 12-0 record, took care of business with a vengeance with a dominant performance, with three of the first four finishers and placing five runners in the top 10 to capture the NCCC title and its first-ever league championship.

Senior Mike LeDuc, a first-year runner, led the Warriors with a strong second place finish with a time of 16:03, the fastest time ever by a Canton runner at the NCCC championship meet. Senior Brian Magna took third in 16:33 and junior Kevin Kurnat was fourth in 16:37. Sophomore Jon Cahill was eighth in 16:51 while junior Ned Furtney finished tenth in 17:02.

Canton scored 27 points and easily beat second place Bolton (73) by 46 points. Only E.O. Smith in 1986 has scored fewer points (15) in a NCCC championship meet since Canton joined the league in 1984.

The Warriors did not take it easy, either. All 27 runners that ran in the varsity and junior varsity race ran their fastest times of the year. Nineteen of them broke 20 minutes on the 3.1 mile course.

“If it’s not a tough race, you’re not pushing yourself hard enough,” said LeDuc, who was caught in the last mile by eventual champion Chris Reynolds of Suffield. LeDuc surged into the lead in the second mile but Reynolds was too strong down the stretch.

“This team is by far the hardest working team I’ve ever been on,” said Magna, who earned All-State and All-New England honors in cross country last fall. “They wanted (the championship) and it showed today.”

While the Warriors are thrilled to bring home a NCCC championship banner, they have their eyes set on Saturday’s Class SS championship race (Oct. 31) at Wickham Park in Manchester at 10:20 a.m. where they will challenge defending Class SS champion Weston.

Canton, which has never won a state title in boys cross country, finished second behind Weston last year. This fall, Weston could be one of the top 10 teams in the state despite their third place finish in last week’s competitive Southwest Conference championship race behind New Milford and Pomperaug.

Only in the last week has O’Donnell begun to taper down the team’s workouts. Before the NCCC meet, Canton had light workouts on consecutive days for the first time this year. The day after winning the league title, the Warriors had another challenging workout.

“I’ve been coaching a long time,” O’Donnell said. “I’ve never had a team from top to bottom like this. Each one give it their best effort and they all have the best attitude. Everyone is responsible. They take care of business, want to get better and make their teammates better.”

It’s a competitive team. It’s hard to earn a spot among the top seven on the varsity team. There are always runners from the junior varsity pressing to move up.

Junior Nick Chekas won the junior varsity race in 17:54 and led the Warriors to their second straight championship in the JV race as Canton placed five runners among the top 11 spots. In fact, much of the pre-race chatter focused on the JV team winning their meet – their last big competition of the season.

LeDuc played soccer for three years before joining the cross country team this fall. “This is more of a team sport than any soccer team I have ever been on,” he said. “Everyone on the team looks out for each other.”

In the championship photo at the end, it wasn’t just the seven varsity runners celebrating with the trophy. It was all 27 runners.

Avon finished fifth in the overall meet with 111 points behind Canton, Bolton, Ellington and Suffield. Ryan Coyle (14th place) and Michael Vallen (15) each earned All-NCCC honors.

Gerry deSimas, Jr., is the editor and founder of The Collinsville Press. He is an award-winning writer and has been covering sports in Connecticut and New England for more than 30 years. He was inducted into the New England High School Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2018.

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