Teamwork and determination helped lift the Avon High girls cross country team to its second Class MM state championship in three years Saturday at Wickham Park in Manchester. Senior Molly Hamel finished sixth and sophomore Christina Martin and junior Ryley Higgins finished strongly to help the Falcons win the state championship.
Avon actually tied defending champion New Fairfield for the title, 73-73. However, when there is a tie, the sixth runner is considered in the scoring and Avon’s Gillian Reyes finished 35th while New Fairfield’s No. 6 runner was 12 spots behind that.
Martin finished tenth, one second ahead of Branford’s Jessica Bohret while Higgins was 17th, one second ahead of Bacon Academy’s Katarana Komon. Had Martin or Higgins slipped one place, there would have been no tie, no need for a tiebreaker and no state championship trophy.
“Our depth put us over the top,” Avon coach Al Dadario said. “My girls ran above and beyond today.”
The Avon girls weren’t the only Falcon team to bring home some hardware. For the first time in over 30 years, the Avon High boys earned a CIAC championship trophy taking second in the Class MM race behind E.O. Smith, 77-95. The last CIAC trophy won by the Avon boys was a second place plaque in the 1983 Class S race.
“It was very exciting,” Avon boys coach C.J. Fusco said. “They ran great. It was one of their best races of the year.”
It was a bit of a transition year for the Avon High girls. They won the Class MM title in 2012 and were a favorite to repeat in 2013 but when lead runner Maddi McHugh twisted an ankle in last year’s championship race, those hopes faded.
This year, Avon didn’t have that one runner to pull away from the pack. They had a strong group of runners, led by Hamel, a consistent top five finisher in big invitational meets. Avon (13-1) never beat Suffield this year, losing in a dual meet and in the NCCC championship meet.
At the Class MM meet, they got the job done. New Fairfield’s Gabrielle Richichi won the Class MM championship for the third straight year in 19:06 and teammate Sabrina Rautter was third in 20:09. But there was a gap and Avon took advantage.
Hamel earned All-State honors by finishing sixth in 20:28 over the 3.1 mile course. Martin took tenth, beating two girls down the final straightaway. New Fairfield’s Melissa Evans was 14th and then came Avon freshman Rachael Martin in 16th place and Higgins in 17th place, also beating two girls down the stretch.
New Fairfield’s fourth runner was 22nd. Avon’s fifth runner Gabriella Colletti was 24th in 21:43 while New Fairfield’s fifth runner finished 33rd to create the 73-73 tie. Avon’s sixth runner was Gillain Reyes, in only her second varsity race, taking 35th place in 22:31. She finished 12 places ahead of New Fairfield’s sixth runner.
“What a great bunch of kids,” Dadario said. “We had that consistency and those kids pulled together. I couldn’t be happier for them. They really worked hard and put the effort in.”
The Avon boys finished the season on a strong note. A week ago, Pritchard started too fast and faded at the NCCC championship meet. This week, he ran a smarter race to earn All-State honors with his seventh place finish in a time of 17:32.
Senior Bryant St. Jean was 16th in 18:10 with junior teammate Andrew Suter 18th in 18:13. Sophomore Kurt Goldie was 22nd in 18:17 and senior James Grant continued his late season surge by taking 32nd in 18:36. That helped the Falcons finish second with 95 points ahead of third place Branford with 123. E.O. Smith won the Class MM championship with 77 points and five finishers among the top 27.
“We knew that E.O. Smith would be the team to beat so we had our guys try to run with them,” Fusco said. “Collin ran a smart race and James had the race of his career. He found a new gear or something.”
Both Avon teams qualified to run in next week’s State Open championships next Friday at Wickham Park. The girls run at 2 p.m. and the boys will run at 2:45 p.m. It’s believed to be the boys first appearance in the State Open as a team since 1983.
Class MM girls championship
Top team results – 1. Avon 73 (won by tiebreaker), 2. New Fairfield 73, 3. Branford 92, 4. Guilford 104, 5. Woodstock Academy 126, 6. RHAM 150, 7. Joel Barlow 171, 8. Bacon Academy 265, 9. East Lyme 285, 10. Rockville and Ledyard 293
Top individual results – 1. Gabrielle Richichi, New Fairfield, 19:06 over 3.1 miles, 2. Haley Hasty, Rockville, 19:22, 3. Sabrina Rautter, New Fairfield 20:09, 4. Cyrene Nicholas, Branford, 20:13, 5. Sylvia Lawrence, Woodstock Academy 20:17, 6. Molly Hamel, Avon, 20:28, 7. Gabrielle Lemma, Joel Barlow, 20:33, 8. Kirsten Morro, Guilford 20:44, 9. Sydney Stofflet, Guilford 20:49, 10. Christina Martin, Avon, 20:59
Other Avon runners: 16. Rachael Martin 21:20, 17. Ryley Higgins 21:22, 24. Gabriella Colletti 21:43, 35. Gillian Reyes 22:31, 45. Kristen Goldie 22:56.
Class MM boys championship
Top team results – 1. E.O. Smith 77, 2. Avon 95, 3. Branford 123, 4. Guilford 133, 5. Foran 160, 6. Joel Barlow 175, 7. New Fairfield 186 8. Bunnell 226, 9. Woodstock Academy 252, 10. Berlin 266
Top individual results – 1. Patrick Briody, E.O. Smith 16:44, 2. Luke Arsenault, Branford 16:52, 3. Ben Ruffing, Joel Barlow, 17:04, 4. Ben Siciliano, Guilford 17:17, 5. Vann Moffett, East Lyme, 17:24, 6. Michael Bortolot, Joel Barlow 17:30, 7. Collin Pritchard, Avon, 17:32, 8. Michael Rautter, New Fairfield 17:39, 9. Ryan Connell, Branford, 17:40, 10. Kyle Timmer, E.O. Smith 17:45
Other Avon runners: 16. Bryant St. Jean 18:10, 18. Andrew Suter 18:13, 22. Kurt Goldie 18:17, 32. James Grant 18:36, 62. Jack Stokesbury 19:16, 65. Greg Oberhausen 19:20