West Hartford’s Hall High School boys track and field team won the Class LL State Championship on Tuesday, while both the Conard boys and girls teams took second place in Class L.
By Ronni Newton
The Hall boys track & field team finished in first place, earning 86 points and outscoring the nearest competition by more than 20 points Tuesday at the Class LL State Championship meet – but as team members posed for a photo instead of holding their index fingers up to signify No. 1, the boys all held up eight fingers.
In indoor and outdoor track, over the past five years, Hall has won the last six consecutive track & field titles. They’ve won seven of eight divisional championships, plus one State Open title. That’s eight championships combined.
This year, based on a slight variance in the number of students, Hall moved up to Class LL for the first time in recent years, which meant competing against perennial powerhouses Norwich Free Academy, Danbury, and Ridgefield, coach Jeff Billing said.
“It’s pretty amazing when you do that,” Billing said of the West Hartford school’s winning legacy, and it’s not just that it’s a talented group of athletes since even this year’s seniors weren’t in high school yet when the winning began. “It says a lot about the culture of the team,” he said.
If there was one superstar Tuesday in the Class LL meet at Willow Brook Park in New Britain it was senior captain Israel “Izzy” Henriques, Billing said. He was part of the winning 4×100 relay, and won both the long and triple jump events.
“You’re only allowed to do three events,” Billing said, and Henriques won them all, accounting for 30 of Hall’s 86 points.
“It feels really rewarding,” Henriques said. “We came in as the No. 1 seed and showed we’re worth it.”
Henriques, who will continue his track & field career jumping and sprinting for Central Connecticut State University next year, said he came into the meet knowing he had to do well.
“It’s crazy … a really nice feeling,” Henriques said. He attributed Hall’s success to having a deep team, and that will serve them well at next week’s State Open, he said. While other teams may have athletes take first or second place, Hall has many in the top eight who score points for the team.
Several of Hall’s championship wins have come down to the last event, the 4×400, but that wasn’t the case Tuesday even though some team members told reporters at the meet that it was.
“One of the captains of the boys team convinced the 4×400 team that they needed to be in the top three to win,” Billing said with a laugh. “But we were ahead by 10½.” He knew that statistically, even if the closest team won the race and Hall was shut out, they would have still won the championship because 10 points are scored for a first place win.
It was a joke played by senior captain Max Rodman, but it lit a fire under the 4×400 guys who cruised to victory in 3:23.19, besting their seed time by more than 2 seconds and finishing well ahead of the next place team.
“We went down there on a bus ride with the kids really pumped up,” Billing said. They knew they could win if they had their best day, and it was really a team effort, with 16 of the roughly 40 athletes on the team scoring points.
“We scored points in every single race on the track except one,” said Billing, and in 14 of 18 overall events.
Junior Walker Beverly turned in “two amazing performances,” said Billing, including running a breakout 4:14 in the 1600 for a fourth-place finish, shattering his previous best time of 4:23 for a huge PR. Beverly also finished third in the 3200.
There were performances like Michael Neff, a senior competing in track & field for the first time, who took sixth place in the javelin. Tobias Ruffo, who anchored the 4×400, was fourth in the 800.
There was no outdoor track & field season at all in 2020, and this is the first season of the 2020-2021 school year where there have been championships. Billing said that’s likely made it all the more special for the team.
“This group has had more fun, and became more of a family. The missing out on so much, and now that it’s back they guys have had so much fun together,” said Billing.
The New England Regional Championships will not be held this year, but following the State Open next Wednesday, Hall will bring a squad to Nationals.
Conard boys track & field coach Ron Knapp said his team also had a great outing Tuesday in the Class L meet at Willow Brook Park, finishing tied for second place with Naugatuck, with both teams earning 54 points. Hillhouse, the winner, had 61 points.
“It was an exciting meet, and it was fun to get back on the track and on the field,” Knapp said. Athletes met or exceeded their capabilities, didn’t give up, and and really rose to the occasion.
Although Hillhouse – the eventual winner – was the favorite, there were so many other teams in the mix, Knapp said.
“We were deep because of Gavin and Callum,” Knapp said of the Sherry twins, juniors, who finished first and third in the 1600 and first and fourth in the 3200. Gavin Sherry’s 4:08.47 in the 1600 and 9:03.29 in the 3200 were both new meet records.
“That was a fight,” Knapp said of the 1600. “It was a deceptively fast race. I looked at my watch and said, OMG,” Knapp said. He was surprised at the fast time, and it was great to see Callum Sherry, who finished third in 4:15.94, duking it out with Nate DeAngelo of Bristol Central, who finished second – just three-hundredths of a second ahead in 4:14.91.
Junior Evan Belabe earned a trip to the State Open with a third-place finish in the 400 and fifth-place finish in the 200. “His stock is rising,” Knapp said.
Junior Israel Lopez, the quarterback on the football team, is a first time track & field competitor – and scored points for Conard in the long and triple jump. Knapp warned him that the mindset for track & field is very different from football. “It’s a team but also an individualized sport,” he said he told Lopez. “You’re out there naked” when you’re competing.
Lopez earned a trip to the State Open with a fifth place finish in the long jump, and despite being seeded last he earned a point for the team in the triple jump.
Conard didn’t have a 4×400 relay team in the meet, but if Windsor had won that race it would have knocked the Chieftains out of second place, so Knapp said he was rooting for Naugatuck, which won the 4×400, tying with Conard for second place overall.
“It was fun, fun to be there,” he said. “The coaching staff put a lot of hard work into the season.”
After coaching for decades, it doesn’t get old, Knapp said.
The Conard girls track & field team also came in second in Class L Tuesday, earning 74.33 points. Windsor won with 84 points.
“The girls could not have been more excited to win second place,” said coach Jessica Blauvelt. “A lot of them have been PR-ing, and continuing to progress, and we’re really proud of them.”
Highlights included Georgetown-bound Chloe Scrimgeor, whose winning time of 10:15.45 in the 3200 shattered the previous meet record by 19 seconds.
Junior Clare Gillis was champion in the 100 and 200, and Emma Sasonov’s third-place finish in the 400 made a major difference for Conard, as did a second place finish in the 4×800.
In the field, sophomore Audrey Kirkutis finished second in the high jump and third in the triple jump, scoring key points for the team. “It was really awesome,” Blauvelt said.
Overall, she said, “We’re a very young team. I’m happy about that moving forward.”
Twelve of the Conard girls will head to the State Open next Wednesday, Blauvelt said.
“We’re very happy,” she added.
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