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A historic race in rain, mud

Canton’s LeDuc earns All-New England honors

MANCHESTER, Nov. 14 – Not only did members of the Canton High boys cross country team have the challenge of facing runners from 29 of New England’s best cross country teams at the 75th annual New England cross country championships at Wickham Park Saturday but they had to battle the elements.

Mike LeDuc

The course was soft and muddy from three consecutive weeks of racing on it, including 12 CIAC boys and girls championship races two weeks ago. Rain all day Saturday made it even softer and muddier. The girls race was run in a hard, steady downpour.

“They were covered head to toe in mud,” Canton coach Tim O’Donnell said. Woe to the runner who didn’t have track spikes to race in. Some of those runners fell numerous times slipping and sliding all over the course.

Canton senior Mike LeDuc stayed on his feet and finished a strong 11th in 16:38 to lead the Warriors to a 13th place finish in their first-ever appearance in the New England championship meet. Canton finished fifth among state teams.

“This was his best race,” O’Donnell said. “He ran the race pretty well.” LeDuc, who won the Class SS championship two weeks ago, earned All-New England honors by finishing in the top 25. He is the second runner in school history to achieve that honor. Teammate Brian Magna did that a year ago, finishing 17th.

Magna got off an extremely slow start and had to fight hard to move through the field of over 220 runners from Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.

“You had to get to the front in this race,” O’Donnell said. “In front, it was less crowded, less slippery and there was room to run. In the back, there was just too many people, too many bodies to get room to sprint. The mud was tough to run through.” Still, Magna worked hard to finish 58th in 17:29.

Sophomore Jon Cahill was Canton’s No. 3 runner in 155th place in 18:26 while junior Jon Melite surged into the fourth position with a time of 18:33, good enough for 166th place. Melite ran in the Class SS race but didn’t run at the State Open.

Juniors Kevin Kurtna (18:44, 185), Ned Furtney (19:11, 222) and David Kucia (22:26, 226) rounded out the field. LeDuc was the fourth runner from Connecticut to finish.

It was the end of a wonderful season that saw the Warriors go undefeated (24-0), win their first-ever league championship, finish second in Class SS for the second straight year, earn its highest-ever finish at the State Open (fourth) and earn its first-ever bid to the New England championships – only the third Class SS team to ever achieve that distinction.

“When I got here eight years ago, I’m not sure anyone in the Canton program thought about going to the New England championships,” O’Donnell said.

The difference this fall was the athletes themselves and their work ethic before and during the season. “They really worked hard,” O’Donnell said. “They wanted to do well and they ran so much more (individually in the off season) than they did as a group.”

O’Donnell knew he would have a motivated them this fall when two Canton runners ran – not drove – to Simsbury High to work out with O’Donnell, who coaches track in Simsbury during the spring.

Only LeDuc and Magna graduate from the team. But that won’t guarantee success next year. It’s the work and preparation that make the difference. LeDuc joined the team this year after playing three years of soccer but the core of this team finished second in Class SS in 2008 and were picked to finish fifth in the NCCC this fall.

Canton finished fourth in the final Fleet Feet Sports state coaches poll.

Two area girls also competed in the New England race. Avon’s Claire Smith, the Class M champion, finished 30th in 19:58. Simsbury’s Jessica Soja finished in 69th place with a time of 20:41.

New England results

New England girls

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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