Cross Country Kicks Off Season With A First Place Finish

Ryan Jones, Sports Editor

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Central Connecticut’s cross country teams were back in action last week after a long summer of training. Traveling to New York for the Marist College Invitational, many key returnees for the Blue Devils asserted themselves back into the mix for both the men’s and women’s teams, while the younger runners also made their presence felt.

The women’s side, who hoisted the Northeast Conference Championship last season, were able to crack into the top 10 in the 5K. Senior Megan Brawner finished the race with a tome of 18:55.4 for sixth place. For her efforts, Brawner was named NEC Player of the Week.

“It’s a nice way to start my senior year,” Brawner said. “I’m just excited for the team and hopefully defending our team title at home.”

The next Blue Devil to follow Brawner was sophomore Ashley Dana, finishing with a time of 6:19.1. Finishing three seconds after Dana was fellow sophomore Kaitlyn Stevens. The reigning NEC Individual Champion, Angie Rafter, did not race in the 5K, but is a huge part of the reason the Blue Devils were voted in the preseason to win the NEC.

Rafter has similar goals for this season.

“Team titles and winning NECs,” Rafter said. “Having it on our home course would be really special for us, so that’d be great.”

Head coach Eric Blake had high praise for the upperclassmen on the team, and explained how they even took some of the load of coaching off his back.

“I tell the new comers to  follow the older athletes,” Blake explained. “If they do that, they’re gonna do pretty good job. I’m pretty lucky that I have great leaders on the team.”

With almost a full month between the Marist College Invitational and the CCSU Ted Owen Invitational, the Blue Devils have a lot of time to recover and continue working.

“We put a lot of emphasis on the course,” Brawner said. “We’re always here, so we always know the ins and the outs and what our weaknesses are. By the time NEC comes around, we’re prepared.”

Senior Roberto Piotto led the way for the men’s team. He finished first overall in the men’s 5K with a 19:13.8 time, averaging a 5:09.5 mile time.

“It feels great, it was a good feeling beating a field of very talented runners,” Piotto said. “Knowing I gave it my all at the end is really a great feeling of accomplishment.”

Piotto’s goals for the season are similar to those from the race., keep training hard and keep giving 110%, because that’s all I can do in the races.”

Another senior, Richard Grudzwick, would finish next for the Blue Devils, securing a finish at 13 with a 19:33.7 time.

“We’ve got good teams on both sides,” head coach Eric Blake said. “The women have some really good returners, very very strong team. We have some good freshmen. I really like what the team’s been doing from effort to practice, it’s been going well.”

“We’ve got a good month’s stretch just to train,” Blake said. “It’s nice knowing that we can really focus on the end of the season. The season’s kind of pushed back with our conference meet the first weekend in November.”

The extended break in races will not create any rust on the Blue Devils, according to Blake. “Everyone’s fitness is going to get better from now until then. We don’t need to rush the process either, we have the time.”