For the first time in the 30-year history of the Little East Conference championships, it can be stated that the team will be looking to defend its title. Pretty heady stuff, but not an impossible task by any stretch of the imagination.
The women’s program -- under seventh-year head coach Kathy Manizza -- unseated 17-time conference champion Keene State College a year ago and returns three of its five scoring runners from that race in senior tri-captains Haley Knox (Bristol) and Samantha McKosky (Deep River) and junior Rachel Osak (Portland).
In all, eight letterwinners return, among them senior Christina Gosselin (Old Saybrook) and sophomore Sylvia Lawrence (Woodstock).
“We talked in pre-season about our goals for the seasons and a lot of the girls talked about how winning the LEC made them feel,” said Knox, the team’s second finisher – ninth overall – in that race. “It was just such a thrill, and we want that (feeling) again. That’s our goal.”
The Warriors must replace graduated veterans Kassandrah Banks (second overall in last year’s LEC race), Amanda Terenzi, Ariel Smith and Evalin Brautigam.
The men struggled to a sixth-place finish in last year’s Little East Conference Championships, but return two potentially Super Sophomores in Brian Balkus (Ashford) and Maxwell Chace (Brooklyn) in their goal of a top three finish in this year’s LEC race.
The key loss was headliner Cooper Goslin, a four-year cross country and track & field standout who led at the finish virtually every time out over his last two years.
Experience returns in the form of the team’s only senior – three-year letterwinner Ryan Adams (Manchester). Adams will serve as a team co-captain along with second-year junior Conner LaBreck (New Hartford).
The remaining nine runners are new to the program – five of them being true freshmen – but a number of them have the potential as top seven finishers.
Said Adams, “during pre-season, we all got up and said what we wanted to achiever for the season, both as a team and individually. The four of us returning runners want to feel the same way as the girls felt. Coming in top three is definitely an achievable goal.”