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While it may be true that, like all competitive athletes, members of Newtown High School’s boys’ cross country team wanted to put their best foot forward in every competition, the Nighthawks actually held back earlier in the season — for good reason. Their delayed start to all-out training ultimately paid big dividends in the form of a South-West Conference title on October 18.
Newtown scored a conference championship meet-best 44 points to beat out the next fastest cumulative top five runners, from Pomperaug of Southbury, which scored 56 points, in the conference championship meet, on the scenic and challenging course at Bethel High.
“It feels great. I can’t even put it into words,” said Ryan Escoda, Newtown’s fastest runner, and the third-place overall finisher, who came across the line in a time of 16:47.52.
“It feels amazing. We worked so hard all season,” added teammate and fifth-place team member Nick Jacobs, who clocked in at 16:54.25. “Our coach had us contain our tempo in a lot of races, not go all out, and hold our energy for this race. It was hard at times.”
A season ago, Newtown High Coach Carl Strait said, the Nighthawks came out running fast from the get-go and peaked too early. This year’s more gradual buildup was by design. It resulted in a pair of losses earlier in the season, but the Hawks overcame each conference rival when it counted most thanks to their patient approach.
“In the end it really paid off to listen to our coach,” said Joel Duval, who placed 11th in a time of 17:15.27.
“Last year’s team is just as much a part of this as this year’s team. You learn from your mistakes,” Strait said.
New Milford’s Eli Nahom easily won the individual title, finishing in 16:22.14; runner-up Robert Moore of Pomperaug had a time of 16:46.27.
Much of Newtown’s success also stemmed from the emergence of new runners, including first-time cross country competitor Max Bloomquist, who placed eighth in 17:08.56.
Christian Lestik rounded out Newtown’s top five, coming in 17th in 17:22.99.
“It’s just crazy,” Lestik said of the team triumph.
Although only seven race at the varsity level, and the top five placements count, it was a total team effort throughout the fall, said Strait, adding that his top runners changed from week to week.
“Really, it was a top 15, a top 20. It was a team-wide thing. It’s amazing. I’m so happy for them,” Strait said. “All 54 kids believed and put all of the effort into it so I’m happy for all of them.”
Also representing the team in the SWC meet were Jack Kuligowski (31st in 18:00.25) and Josh Bent (40th in 18:19.21). There were 91 finishers representing 13 schools and all of Newtown’s came across among the top half.
The coach felt good about his team’s chances but knows many factors can change things, ranging from team members having an off day, injury, or illness, or a competitor having a particularly good day.
“There are so many outside variables. It’s never a given,” Strait said. “The pieces were in place. It was just a matter of how they fell at the end.”
Things fell into place for Strait for the second time on the Bethel High campus. Strait won a conference championship at Bethel High while coaching the NHS baseball team back in 2009.
“I’m really starting to like this place,” Strait said.
The Newtown girls came in third with a score of 76. Pomperaug, with 34, was tops; Immaculate of Danbury came in second with 64.
Newtown’s Camille Johnson was seventh in a time of 2:11.30; Emily Tressler came in ninth in 20:14.50; Lu Hage placed 13th in 20:39.13; Hallie Filan came in 21st in 21:17.62; and Cate Norton placed 26th in 21:55.27.
“We had a good day. Five girls under 22 is no joke,” said Newtown Coach Rich Marcello, whose team has been battling injuries throughout the campaign and was at about 90 percent strength for the championship meet.
“This was a nice stepping stone for us,” said Marcello, who is looking forward to seeing what his team does in upcoming state meets. “We’re looking forward to the next couple of weeks.”
Also running for Newtown were Gloria Rowley (27th in 22:10.97) and Courtney Henchcliffe (42nd in 23:24.66). There were 83 runners representing 12 girls’ squads in the race. Pomperaug’s Katherine Wiser led the girls’ field with a time of 18:38.08.