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DeBalsi, Ridgefield boys’ team win State Open XC titles

Staples' Hannah DeBalsi and Westhill's Claire Howlett, shown competing at the FCIAC cross country meet, ran one-two at the State Open championship in Wickham Park last Friday, with DeBalsi taking the top spot. (Dave Stewart/Hersam Acorn Newspapers Photo)

Staples’ Hannah DeBalsi and Westhill’s Claire Howlett, shown competing at the FCIAC cross country meet, ran one-two at the State Open championship in Wickham Park last Friday, with DeBalsi taking the top spot. (Dave Stewart/Hersam Acorn Newspapers Photo)

MANCHESTER – Hannah DeBalsi of Staples won the girls race and the strength of boys cross country in the FCIAC was fully evident by the fact that Ridgefield won the team championship while leading a trio of conference teams that finished in the top three places at the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference State Open Cross Country Championships on Nov. 1 at Wickham Park.

Ridgefield captured the boys crown in rather impressive fashion by scoring the meet low of 58 points. Darien was runner-up with 109 points while Danbury had 147 points for third place. Hall finished fourth with 151 points as the only non-conference team among the top five. Staples, also from the FCIAC, rounded out the top five with 175.

The team with the lowest team score wins in the championship-meet format in cross country as the team points total is determined by adding up the place positions of each teams’ top five runners.

The FCIAC had its eight fastest runners finish among the top 11 in the boys’ race.

Ridgefield senior Trevor Hopper placed second in the boys’ race as the top finisher from the FCIAC to lead the Tigers to the team championship. They utilized some excellent pack running in which their second, third and fourth runners were within two seconds of each other in places 7-9.

Fairfield Prep senior Christian Alvarado barely nipped Hopper to become the individual champion as they both had times of 15:31 over the 5-kilometer (3.1 miles) course. It was significant improvement from both of them, especially Hopper, from their times six days earlier in the state Class LL championship meet on the same course. Alvarado won that race with a 15:55 while Hopper had a 16:07 to lead the Tigers to the Class LL team championship.

Darien junior Alex Ostberg placed third at the State Open with a 15:38, which was 35 seconds faster than Capital Prep senior Dhahran Velasquez, who was the only other runner not from the FCIAC among the top nine. Ostberg won the Class L race with a 15:34 on Oct. 26 to lead the Blue Wave to the team championship.

Wilton junior Spencer Brown (16:17) placed fifth and Brien McMahon sophomore Eric Van Der Els (16:20) was sixth.

That pivotal trio of Tigers in the next three positions included junior Austin Gilbert (16:24), senior Will Bordash (16:24) and sophomore Gabe Altopp (16:26).

Arii Klau (16:28) of Hall placed 10th and Staples senior Peter Elkind (16:29) placed 11th as the eighth runner from the FCIAC.

The other runners from the FCIAC who placed among the 24 were Fairfield Warde senior Aidan Fiol (14th place with a 16:32), Staples junior Oliver Hickson (19th, 16:40), Darien sophomore Armstrong Noonan (20th, 16:41) and Darien senior Marshall Huffman (24th, 16:44).

The top 25 runners and top six teams from the State Open qualified for the 79th annual New England High School Cross Country Championships scheduled for Saturday (Nov. 9) at Derryfield Park in Manchester, N.H. The girls’ race will begin at 11:30 a.m., followed by the boys’ race at 12:30 p.m.

DeBalsi, a superb sophomore, and Westhill senior Claire Howlett finished in the top two places in the girls’ race as they continue to compile a list of accomplishments in which they have to be regarded as two of the all-time best distance runners in state history.

DeBalsi won with a time of 17:44 over the same 5K course the boys ran. Howlett had an 18:11, New Fairfield junior Barielle Richichi (18:21) placed third and Ridgefield senior Laura Hergenrother (18:58) was the third FCIAC runner among the top four. Mercy senior Kaleigh Roberts (19:00) placed fifth and Fairfield Warde senior Cate Allen (19:02) was the fourth FCIAC runner among the top six.

The other conference runners among the top 21 who advanced to the New England Championships as individuals were Wilton senior Sarah Healy (11th, 19:23), Darien junior Anne Johnston (12th, 19:26), Staples junior Erica Hefnawy (13th, 19:26) and Wilton sophomore Mary Lynch (21st, 19:42).

DeBalsi was the CIAC Class LL champion at this same venue on Oct. 26 with a time of 17:41 that was three seconds faster than her State Open time. Howlett and Hergenrother placed second and third, respectively, at the Class LL meet.

The eight girls from the FCIAC who made the New England Championships as individuals also happened to be the top eight girls in the FCIAC Championships on Oct. 17 at Waveny Park in New England.

It was a Triple Crown autumn for DeBalsi as she was the conference champion and was followed, in order, by Howlett, Allen, Hergenrother, Healy, Hefnaway, Johnston and Lynch in places 1-8 at the FCIAC Championships.

DeBalsi and Hefnaway led Staples to third place at the State Open. Tolland won with 77 points, Glastonbury (136) was runner-up, the Wreckers had 184 points and Ridgefield was close to them and in fourth place with 193. Wilton was the third FCIAC team and seventh overall with 225 points.

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