The only sport that never seemed to be in jeopardy of losing its season, many of the local cross country teams posted strong results in their shortened schedules. With limited opportunities and no invitationals to expand who they were competing against, runners had to find additional motivation from within.
This appeared to be enough for many local runners as this year’s All-Press Cross Country Team features four returning honorees and seven all-state finishers.
Leading the pack was the Bristol Central cross country team, represented by Nate DeAngelo, Frankie Porrini and Natalia Popielarz.
One of the top runners in the state, DeAngelo returns to the All-Press Team with another All-State consideration to his name. He set the course record at Stanley Quarter Park in New Britain (15:31) for his best time of the season, but then started to really turn heads when he went to the Garden State High School Showcase and posted a 15:01 on the track.
Deangelo returned to Stanley Quarter for the CCC Region B championship, which he won by 24 seconds with a time of 15:42.
“Nate is a great leader,” his head coach Tamara Stafford-Kirk said. “He’s a captain who’s very focused and just leads by example. When it’s time to work, he’s ready to work and the kids kind of fall in line behind him. I think that he’s also shown the kids what hard work can do because he’s very talented, but he works very hard. He’s just been a great example for the other runners on the team and that’s been really nice to watch.”
Only a sophomore, Porrini ran a 16:28 at the CCC Region B postseason race which earned him All-State honors. More suited for shorter distances, he ran the 1600 in 4:33 at the Garden State showcase.
“Frankie is a really raw talent,” Stafford-Kirk said. “He’s learning more and more how to hone his talent, becoming more committed in workouts. Frankie is going to probably show his strength in a distance like the mile, but his 16:28 at Stanley Quarter is very strong sophomore time.”
Another repeat honoree, Popielarz earned All-State recognition for her 19:30 5k at Stanley Quarter Park, which earned her third in CCC Region B.
“That girl just grinds,” Stafford-Kirk said. “She’s hardworking, both in the classroom and as a runner, and she just has gotten so strong. I’ve watched her really get stronger physically and mentally over the past few years. I know a lot of the focus was on Nate this year, but she really ran some great times, she broke the course record at Plainville. She’s really developed over the past few years and that is a testament to her hard work.”
Terryville’s cross country teams also provided three runners to this year’s All-Press squad with three more All-State performers in Nick Zappone, Nick Fusco and Kaitlin DeForest.
“All three athletes had incredible seasons in this crazy short year,” head coach Stephanie Fuller said of the group. “All three are tenacious athletes and have some big goals for next season.”
Zappone qualified for All-State recognition after coming in second at the Berkshire League Championships with a 17:59.1 performance. He was the second-fastest person in the conference as Northwestern’s Alex Beauchene was the only person to beat Zappone this season.
Fusco’s 18:21.3 gave him fourth place at the Berkshire League Championships as the Kangaroos were the only team to have two runners finish in the top five.
A mainstay at the top of Terryville’s distance runners, DeForest earned her second All-State nod after taking third place in the Berkshire League (20:35.8) and shaved 11 seconds off of her time from last year’s race while finishing just one second out of second place.
Bristol Eastern completes this year’s team with a pair of impressive girls in Fiona Gallagher and Avery Braccia, both of whom finished top-15 in CCC Region B.
Gallagher made huge improvements entering this season and they showed in her races. She became just the second girl in school history to receive all-state honors after placing sixth in her postseason race with a time of 20:52. She ran a 20:10 on the same course earlier in the season to earn all-conference honors and is set to be one of the top runners in area for her senior season next year.
“Fiona Gallagher worked hard over the summer and dedicated her training to become even better,” coach Kyle Fuller said. “Her drive and determination has Fiona running at a new level she didn't think was possible.”
The final returner from last year’s All-Press roster, Braccia took 15th in her final high school cross-country race (21:55) to earn another all-conference selection. A senior captain, this was the first time she had teammates to push her to run faster.
“This is the first year of her cross country career that Avery was chasing a fellow teammate, versus being the one chased,” Fuller said. “Foina's improvement has made Avery work even harder.”
Matt Hornick can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org