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Higgins’ first-ever win helps Falcons capture third Class MM title in four years

The Avon High girls cross country team won their third Class MM title in four years Saturday.

The Avon High girls cross country team won their third Class MM title in four years Saturday.

Avon High senior Ryley Higgins

Avon High senior Ryley Higgins

It has been a memorable career for Avon High senior Ryley Higgins with the Avon High girls cross country team. She has helped the Falcons win three conference championships, three Class MM titles and a berth in the New England championships.

The one thing she hadn’t done was win a race – until Saturday.

Higgins won a race for the first time at the CIAC Class MM championship meet at Wickham Park in Manchester helping Avon win the Class MM title for the third time in four years. The Falcons beat RHAM, 62-73, with New Fairfield finishing a distant third with 152 points.

Sophomore Sara Leavens finished eighth for Avon while junior Christina Martin (13), freshman Caroline Luby (16) and junior Gabriella Colletti (24) all finishing in the top 25. Higgins and Leavens earned All-State honors for finishing among the top 12 runners.

“She was apprehensive and nervous about running up front,” Avon coach Al Dadario said about Higgins. “She didn’t know what to expect. She was afraid to get out front and stay in front.”

But about midway through the race, Higgins was fourth after racing up a steep hill at the course called the Green Monster. She made up her mind and moved to the front to stay. Higgins beat Ledyard’s Megan Brawner by 12 seconds to win the state title with a personal-best time at Wickham Park of 19:57.

She is the fourth Avon runner and the first since Rachael Rosow in 2011 to win a state championship.

“She (Higgins) was always used to running behind people,” Dadario said. “She didn’t give herself enough credit.”

Higgins worked hard in the offseason, running at a camp in Colorado this summer and another one in Vermont. You could see Higgins’ progress throughout the season. When the season began in Septemer, she was about a minute behind sophomore Rachel Martin, Avon’s top runner this fall.

By mid-October, she was running neck and neck with Rachel Martin. Both ran a time of 20:36 at the Wickham Park Invitational to finish in the top 15. About 10 days later, Martin beat Higgins by 0.22 of a second to take 14th place at the Central Connecticut Conference Invitational with a time of 20:27.20.

Rachel Martin had a tough day on the course. She fell once but recovered to finish 26th in 21:55. It didn’t hurt Avon’s championship aspirations with five runners in the top 25.

“It’s quite an accomplishment for the girls (three titles in four years),” Dadario said. “In this sport, you have to have the athletes and have them trained. They really trained and were mentally ready to win this race today.”

Avon advances to Friday’s State Open championships at Wickham Park at 2 p.m. The top six teams will earn a ticket to the New England championships.

The Avon boys finished ninth in Class MM with 248 points. The Falcons were led by Zach Bortoff, who was 22nd in 17:58. Andrew Suter was 38th with a time of 18:29.

NOTES: Higgins was the fourth girl to win an individual state title for the Falcons. Rosow won in 2011 and Claire Smith won the Class MM crown in 2009. Mary McNutt won state titles in 1975 (Class S) and 1974 (Class M).

Class MM championships GIRLS
At Manchester
Top 10 teams – 1. Avon 62, 2. RHAM 73, 3. New Fairfield 152, 4. Woodstock Academy 162, 5. Bacon Academy 174, 6. Fitch 181, 7. Branford 183, 8. Guilford 184, 9. Ledyard 217, 10. Lauralton Hall 250
Top 5 individuals – 1. Ryley Higgins, Avon, 19:57 for 3.1 miles at Wickham Park in Manchester; 2. Megan Brawner, Ledyard, 20:09, 3. Sylvia Lawrence, Woodstock Academy 20:11, 4. De’janay Davis, Hillhouse, 20:22, 5. Melissa Evans, New Fairfield, 20:25.
Avon runners – 1. Ryley Higgins, 19:57, 8. Sara Leavens 20:43, 13. Christina Martin 21:18, 16. Caroline Luby 21:30, 24. Gabriella Colletti 21:53, 26. Rachel Martin 21:55, 29. Ashley Martin 21:59

Class MM championships BOYS
At Manchester
Top 10 teams – 1. Guilford 70, 2. E.O. Smith 107, 3. Joel Barlow 147, 4. East Lyme 163, 5. New Fairfield 165, 6. Berlin 168, 7. Foran 195, 8. Woodstock Academy 204, 9. Avon 248, 10. Bunnell 261
Top 5 individuals – 1. Vann Moffett, East Lyme 16:17 for 3.1 miles at Wickham Park, 2. Patrick Briody, E.O. Smith 16:19, 3. Ben Siciliano, Guilford, 16:22, 4. Michael Bortolot, Joel Barlow, 16:36, 5. Michael Rauttner, New Fairfield 16:46
Avon runners – 22. Zach Bortoff 17:58, 38. Andrew Suter 18:29, 49. Jack Stokesbury 18:44, 64. Andrew Mascoli 19:04, 75. Jon Hernandez 19:20, 84. Brian Lancaster 19:28, 102. Matt Nyklicek 19:56

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.

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