A banner day for BL runners...By Rick Wilson
MANCHESTER – We knew the Berkshire League could run, didn’t we? Still, it was nice to be reminded in awfully impressive fashion Saturday at the state cross country championships at Wickham Park.
You couldn’t help being reminded of last year’s freak snow storm at Wickham that had runners slopping around in the white stuff and forced the cancellation of the Class S races. You couldn’t help being reminded, but the almost balmy conditions made you forget real quick.
So did the Berkshire League runners. Four individual champions and while there were no team champions this time around with mighty Thomaston being brought down by powerful Immaculate in the Class S girls race, two second place finishes with Thomaston and Nonnewaug in the Class SS boys earning runner-up honors.
Lewis Mills’ Kevin Sullivan and Stephanie Deccy along with Thomaston’s Cameron Chaplen and Nonnewaug’s Jonah Riolo are caressing championship gold this morning and well, forever, now.
You can start with Lewis Mills. Take a bow Spartans. On an individual level, Mills rules Class M. Underneath the victories there was a case of sustained excellence and after a brief blip, a return to the top.
Sullivan was the BL’s top runner all season long and added an exclamation point with no-one-can-catch-me performance in the BL Championships on Oct. 20, defeating his teammate and second place finisher Jackson Morrow by 27 seconds.
Nothing changed in the Class M meet. Sullivan (16:24) won this time by 18 seconds, an eternity and beyond in cross country, over his closer pursuer Colin Sauter of Tolland. Even he admitted he was a bit surprised.
“I thought I had an outside shot (to win) but I thought it would be closer.”
Sullivan did what all good runners with the killer instinct do – he put the hammer down. He took the lead after the first mile and in his own words, “I never looked back. I kept pulling away.”
The Lewis Mills stage, however, became a busy place when Stephanie Deccy got her chance to earn a little redemption. Deccy was the BL’s top runner all season but wasn’t feeling well and ran into a potent one-two Thomaston punch in Sabrina Olsen and Chaplen at the BL Championships and finished third.
It happens and she moved on. Boy did she move on. Deccy (19:28) was in peak form Saturday and like her teammate Sullivan, reduced her competition to running for second place with an 18 second victory.
“She was motivated here to get focused on today,” said Mills coach Fran Amara. “By her own very lofty standards, (the BL’s) was not a good day.”
Thomaston’s Cameron Chaplen’s career needs no validation. She has earned All-New England honors, is a four-time All-Stater and a four-time All-BL performer. Her body weight would double and she needs a much bigger neck to hoist and wear all of those medals.
But, there was always somebody better. A Jackie Nicholas, a national class runner. Last year Annemarie Tuxbury of Northwestern Regionals and her teammate Sabrina Olsen. She has been with the elite. Now, she is the elite.
Chaplen trailed Olsen for most of the race and then found a championship burst in the final yards to move by her teammate and cross the finish line first. It was not easy physically. Or mentally.
Every competitor wants to win, but having to move by a friend and teammate was difficult.
“At the end of the day, these are my teammates but they are also my competitors,’ said Chaplen. “I felt good to just go. It’s so crazy. I always see these girls at top and knew I could be just as good. Today I feel at the top.”
Nonnewaug’s Riolo was coming off of a ninth place finish in the Berkshire League where he was just the third top finisher on his own team. But on this day, Riolo ruled. He held off Cam Swift of Oxford by five seconds with a winning time of 16:55.
Riolo credited his coach, Arleigh Duff, with some inspiring talk and said he just ran as hard as he could. Duff called Riolo’s effort, “amazing.”
It was all pretty amazing. They know how to run in the Northwest Hills and the Berkshire League.