DeBalsi, van der Els, Altopp star at Foot Locker XC championships

SAN DIEGO, Calif. – Staples senior Hannah DeBalsi became an All-American for the third consecutive year while Brien McMahon senior Eric van der Els and Ridgefield senior Gabe Altopp also ran very well at the 2015 Foot Locker Cross Country Championships at Morley Field in Balboa Park on Dec. 12.

DeBalsi capped one of the greatest careers a Connecticut girls high school cross country runner has ever had by placing 12th in the Girls Championship Race with a time of 17 minutes, 49.8 seconds over the 5-kilometer (3.1 miles) course. Weini Kelati of Heritage High School in Leesburg, Va. won the race with a 17:09.7.

DeBalsi is the only runner in state history to have qualified three times for this race, which is the national championship meet for high school runners. The top 15 runners earn All-American status. DeBalsi was runner-up as a sophomore and fifth last year in this meet.

Ceci Hopp of Greenwich High School won the inaugural race in 1980 and the only other national champion from Connecticut was Waterford’s Liz Mueller in 1991.

The tandem of van der Els and Altopp have pushed and pulled each other to excellence in several previous championship meets throughout the fall so it was fitting that they ended their stellar careers by again finishing close to each other, 18th and 19th, respectfully. Drew Hunter of Loudoun Valley High School (Va.) won in 14:55.7, van der Els had a 15:35.6 and Altopp was clocked in 15:39.9

DeBalsi, van der Els and Altopp all qualified for the meet with high placings at the 2015 Foot Locker Cross Country Championships Northeast Regionals at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx on Nov. 28. DeBalsi placed fourth in the girls race with a time of 17:43.7 on the 5K course. DeBalsi got her superb senior postseason rolling when she won her third straight FCIAC championship race, then she also three-peated in the state Class LL, State Open and New England championships.

In the boys Foot Locker Northeast Regionals race, van der Els was fifth with a time of 15:30.5 on the 5K course and Altopp took ninth (15:34.3). In this year’s first three championship races, van der Els and Altopp finished 1-2 in the FCIAC, state Class LL and State Open championship meets.

Altopp finally finished ahead of van der Els, and just barely at that, at the 81st New England Interscholastic Cross Country Championships at Thetford Academy in Thetford, Vt. David Principe Jr., a junior from LaSalle Academy in Rhode Island, won the 5K race in 15:48.4. Altopp snatched the runner-up spot with a 16:09.3 that was just a scant 1/100th of a second ahead of van der Els’ time of 16:09.4.

Staples senior Hannah DeBalsi competes in the FCIAC cross country championship meet at New Canaan’s Waveny Park.— Dave St ewart/HAN Network photo