Cross Country Women Repeat As NEC Champs, Both Sides Bring Top Finisher

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Cross Country Women Repeat As NEC Champs, Both Sides Bring Top Finisher

Ryan Jones, Sports Editor

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Central Connecticut women’s cross country had two things to defend Saturday; their home course and their Northeast Conference Championship. The team was able to hold strong on both, winning the NEC Championship again as Angie Rafter took home the first place for the second year in a row.

“It’s so special to be able to defend our title here at home,” Rafter said.

The junior finished the 5K nearly 20 seconds before the next best, clocking in with a 17:28.5 first-place time. Rafter defended a first-place finish in last year’s Championship, though her finish this time is a personal best.

“I can’t say I’m surprised with Angie’s win,” head coach Eric Blake said. “She’s been racing well all year, but the way she hammered that lower loop was excellent.”

Following behind her was senior Megan Brawner, finishing third. Brawner has been Rafter’s running partner this season, something both of them credit to their success.

“It’s been really special to have such a solid training partner and such amazing younger runners on the team,” Brawner said. “It’s really inspirational even as the older one on the team to see the future talent.”

While Brawner praised her running mate, Rafter was quick to reflect it back. For Rafter, Brawner is the glue “holding our team together.”

“I don’t think anybody on this team would be where we are without Meg,” Rafter said.

The younger racers on the women’s side cemented what was already a successful outing, running as a pack throughout. Sophomores Ashley Dana and Kaitlyn Stevens were able to move up some spots in the final stretch of the 5K.

Entering the NEC’s as reigning champions, Blake said,”the pressure was a little bit different this year than last,” explaining that the team “felt as if they had to win.”

The men’s team likewise put together one of their best outings in the Championship. Roberto Piotto came out of the gates hot, narrowly grabbing a first-place finish with a 25:19.0 finish in the 8K.

“Roberto’s run was very impressive,” Blake said. “He has an internal feel that is unmatched where he can get the best out of himself.”

The rest of the team stepped it up as well, with five total Blue Devils finishing in the top 20. The men’s team put together a score of 50, just seven points shy of first place Wagner College.

Freshman Elias Field finished next for the Blue Devils, placing seventh and taking home the NEC Freshman of the Year award.

Field has put together a strong freshman campaign for the Blue Devils, finishing in the top three among CCSU runners in every race. For Field, “it’s all about the training,” he said. “We’ve been training on this course really hard every day, and it helped us out a lot.”

Senior Richard Grudzwick finished 13th for the Blue Devils with a personal best of his own. Despite normally placing higher in their races this year, Grudzwick was quick to credit the rest of the team’s perseverance to step it up.

“It’s a little bit of disappointment that I didn’t run the race I think I could have,” Grudzwick said. “But it’s the beauty of the sport: anything can happen. I ran a PR in this course today that I’m really pleased about. It’s a real team sport, everyone counts whether you’re the second guy or seventh.”

The upperclassmen blazed the path for the Blue Devils’ finishes, an experienced pack that used the familiarity of the course to their advantage, Blake said.

“They’ve all won conference titles before and they never take it for granted,” Blake said. “Some very high-quality racing from them, that group will be missed.”

CCSU will finish off the season with races at the NCAA Northeast Regionals and IC4A/ECAC Championships.

“We’re gonna go in with the same mentality we had for NEC’s,” Rafter said. “Even though they’re big championship races, coach Blake likes us to go in with the thought that ‘we can run with the pack runners.'”