WILLIMANTIC, Conn. – The Eastern Connecticut State University women’s and men’s cross country teams have identical goals this fall under sixth-year head coach Kathy Manizza: be competitive throughout the regular season and peak for the Little East Conference Championships. The only difference between the programs will be the manner in which they go about reaching those goals.
Despite losing All-LEC runner, team captain and graduated four-year letterwinner Mariah McPhee – who moves into an assistant coaching role as she pursues an advanced degree at Eastern -- the women will rely upon a deep, veteran, ever-improving nucleus which counts four fourth-year seniors among its 13 roster runners. The women return eight of last year’s ten letterwinners, among them junior All-LEC performer Samantha McKosky (Deep River) -- fifth in a field of 85 at last year’s conference meet – and senior tri-captain Kassandrah Banks (Wethersfield), who trailed only McPhee among Eastern runners at least year’s New England Regionals.
By contrast, the men will count upon an infusion of new blood to offset the losses of four of last year’s seven letterwinners. The key graduation loss was captain and four-year letterwinner Chris Armstrong from a team which finished ahead of one team in last year’s six-team LEC Championships.
While veteran experience is not in abundance, senior co-captains Cooper Goslin (South Windsor) and Noah Hallisey (East Lyme) – who ran 1-2 a year ago -- provide a healthy dose of it and will be joined by junior two-year letterwinner Ryan Adams (Manchester), the other returnee. Goslin has enjoyed a relatively healthy career, while Hallisey has been plagued by nagging injuries throughout his cross country and track & field career.
For the women, Banks, McKosky, senior tri-captain Ariel Smith (Stratford), and junior Haley Knox (Bristol) – the latter enjoying an accomplished track season last spring – should finish regularly among the team’s five scoring runners, and could be joined by senior tri-captain Amanda Terenzi (Coventry, RI). Among returnees, senior Evalin Brautigam (Bethel), junior Christina Gosselin (Old Saybrook), and sophomore Rachel Osak (Portland) will push their teammates.
For the women, additional newcomers include freshman Sylvia Lawrence (Woodstock) -- a four-time All-State high school performer who should contend as a top three runner on the team – as well as sophomore track participant Samara Johnson (Lebanon), sophomore Nina Pasqua (Bristol) and freshmen Jenna Chernik (South Windsor) and Shai-Lin Gothreau (Woodstock).
The story of the year for the men’s team will be the first-year runners which number nine on a 12-person roster: four true freshmen, three members of last year’s track team, one soccer convert and one transfer.
At last year’s LEC Championship, Goslin and Hallisey placed in the Top 20 – three spots and ten seconds apart. They will provide the core of this year’s nucleus. Among those expected to score regularly are freshmen Maxwell Chace (Brooklyn) -- an All-State runner who sat out last year’s high school track season with a stress fracture – two-time all-conference athlete Brian Balkus (Ashford) and Henry Klarman (Cheshire).
Senior Sean Bodnar (Watertown) and sophomores Zachary Parisella (Hamden) and Matt Viarengo (Bristol) join the team after participating in track last year, with sophomore Conner LaBreck (New Hartford) moving to cross country after a freshman season with the soccer program. Additional roster newcomers include sophomore transfer Christopher Fernandes (Bethel) and freshman Sean McHugo (Coventry).
The teams are scheduled to compete in four invitationals – beginning with the Trinity College Invitational at Wickham Park Sept. 10 – as a buildup to the LEC meet Oct. 28 at Keene State College. The team’s top seven will then qualify for the New England Regionals Nov. 11 at Gorham, ME.