Competing as a boys cross country runner within the FCIAC is perhaps the most daunting task for any local high school athlete, lest the name “Ridgefield”, “Danbury” or “Darien” happens to be spread across his pinny.
Of the 36 FCIAC boys cross country champions and runner-ups from the last 18 years, only five have hailed from different towns. To give an even greater idea of the trio’s dominance, these perennial contenders have often gone on to dominate at the State Open level and in New England competition. New Canaan, which last wore the conference crown in 1984, is well aware that once again this fall will mean another steep climb.
But having lost only one senior to graduation and gained strong direction under second-year head coach Bill Martin, the Rams feel ready. No, not to claim the FCIAC title; rather, something higher.
In their farewell season, captains Alex Ellsworth, Spencer Lyman and Charlie Hoffman want to lead New Canaan to a Class L state championship and knock off the powerhouse Blue Wave in the process.
“We’ve seen what they’ve been able to do with a strong senior class, and we’re looking around at ourselves thinking we also have that this year and now they lost that,” Lyman said. “So definitely in the dual meets, we can be competitive and surprise them.”
“In Class L, our main team in the way is Darien. And they’ve lost a lot of seniors, and we’ve gained a lot of age since last year, so we feel for ready for them and are just going to continue to work,” he explained.
“It doesn’t mean they’re not going to be good. They’re always good. But we’re trying to take the opportunity in cross country and leave behind something nice as seniors.”
Last season, Lyman and Ellsworth landed on the All-FCIAC second team for New Canaan, which notched a sixth-place team finish in conference. The aim in 2014 is to break into the top five and then come out on top at states. Martin, who served as an assistant for one year before taking over last fall, believes in his group, which has increased in numbers and young talent.
“Last year our goal was to do well in the FCIACs. Going from eleventh to sixth, I’d say we pretty much accomplished that,” he said. “These guys will run the absolute best that they can possible run. I have no doubt about that. Do we have the talent (for a championship)? That remains to be seen. I have no doubt about desire and heart.”
Sophomores Michael St. George and Jack O’Connor project as key contributors for the Rams, after each posted an impressive freshman campaign. St. George ran a sub-five-minute mile last year and kept up frequently with upperclassmen in practice. Juniors Aidan Buck and Ryan McCough will also be in the mix.
Per Martin and his captains, many of the younger Rams put in extra training time over the summer to improve, as some ran nearly 400 miles in total. Their ability to perform in late-season meets will go a long way to determining the team’s success in 2014, which if all goes right, will feel like a long time coming for the senior class.
“This is it for us. We’re all ready for a successful season,” Hoffman said. “We’ve had our fair share of sort of letdowns the last couple of years and it’s our time.”