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What can Canton High runners for an encore?

CANTON, Sept. 5 – A year ago, it was a magical season for the Canton High boys cross  country team – the best campaign ever by the Warrior runners.

Canton (24-0, 12-0 NCCC) went undefeated and won its first-ever league championship. For the second straight year, they finished second to Weston in Class SS. The Warriors surged to a surprising fourth place finish at the State Open and ran in the New England championships for the first time.

What can they do for an encore? It’s hard to say. Two tremendous runners graduated. Mike LeDuc won a Class SS championship last fall and earned All-State and All-New England honors. Brian Magna earned All-State honors last year and was an All-New England runner as a junior in 2008.

Coach Tim O’Donnell’s squad has 21 runners and eight are tightly clustered together. “I could make a case that anyone of them could be our No. 1 runner,” O’Donnell said. While the Warriors don’t have a breakout runner like LeDuc or Magna, they still have some of the depth that carried them a year ago.

“If they feed off each other in a positive way, we could have a very good team,” O’Donnell said. “If they can improve, we could have a good season. They have to get better. It’s all about improvement in this sport.”

Senior Kevin Kurnat, junior Jon Cahill and senior Ned Furtney all return. All three earned All-NCCC honors. Kurnat finished last year as the No. 3 runner on the team with Cahill at No. 4 and Furtney in the No. 5 position.

Senior Evan Camporelle, Jon Melite, Nick Chekas and Jon Powell have looked strong in early-season workouts along with junior Peter LeDuc. Melite was fourth for Canton in the New England meet last fall while Chekas was sixth for the Warriors at the State Open and set a league record by winning the NCCC junior varsity title.

Canton will be challenged by Suffield, which still feels they were the better team a year ago, Bolton, Ellington and Avon. Canton will host its only home meet on October 6 when they host Suffield and Avon. The Warriors, who have won 18 straight dual meets, will have its four other league meets on the road.

GIRLS CROSS COUNTRY: Canton (12-12, 6-6 NCCC) returns its top three runners this year including senior Kendra Asklof, who earned All-NCCC honors last fall. Seniors Deanna Nappi and Jessie Camp also return for coach Linda Cavanaugh, beginning her seventh season. Asklof was 13th in the league a year ago while Nappi and Camp finished in the top 30. The Warriors have 16 girls out for the team. The question is there enough talent  and improvement to move up in the league?

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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