West Hartford’s Hall High School boys indoor track and field team won the Class LL Indoor Track State Championship last weekend, and many boys, as well as girls on the team will compete in the State Open on Feb. 16.
By Ronni Newton
West Hartford’s Hall High School has done it again, for the third year in a row bringing home a first place trophy in the class indoor track and field state meet, held Feb. 9 at the Floyd Little Athletic enter in New Haven.
This year the Warriors’ win was in Class LL, against deep teams from the largest schools in the state. For indoor track and field, class assignments are based on enrollment, and depending on the field that year, Hall – as well as Conard – often switches back and forth between the largest and second-largest group of schools.
In 2017, Hall was the dark horse candidate, entering the state meet with a low seed and winning the Class L indoor track and field championship in the last event. In 2018, as the heavily-favored top seed, the boys earned 82 points and won Class L again.
This year, the coaches thought that about 5o points would be needed to take the Class LL crown, and had sights set on Danbury, the five-time defending Class LL champ. Hall had finished second to Danbury in the State Open in 2018.
“We definitely knew it was going to be a challenge,” head coach Scott Sampietro said, with not only Danbury but also Glastonbury and Wilbur Cross in the mix. But instead of Danbury, the Warriors found themselves in a battle against Norwich Free Academy (NFA), for a title that wasn’t decided until the final two events.
“NFA definitely outperformed their seed; they had a massive performance,” Sampietro said.
With only the 3200 and the 4×400 left in the meet, NFA led the field with 59 points – but didn’t have a runner in the 3200, and had a low seed in the 4×400, assistant coach Jeff Billing said.
Hall had 42 points – earned by “over-performing” in the early relays, and strong races by mid-distance and distance runners, Billing said. None of Hall’s points had been earned in the field, where NFA athletes had excelled, winning the long jump and pole vault, and scoring in shot put, and high jump.
The top six finishers in each event score, with 10 points for first place, 8 for second, 6 for third, 4 for fourth, 2 for fifth, and 1 for sixth.
“It came down to we needed a first and second place – 18 points – in the last events,” said Sampietro. “And the boys performed.” He said it was a very similar feeling to 2017.
“The path to 18 points did not look promising,” said Billing.
Senior Trey Cormier had already taken second in the 1600 (4:22.20), but the first-place winner (Travis Martin of Wilbur Cross) was competing in the 3200, as were three strong and “fresh” runners.
“The five of them broke away from the field early and came through the mile in 4:39. With three laps to go, one of the fresh athletes [Danbury junior Jacob Hefele] made a huge move to the front and carried it for the win [9:21.83]. Trey fell back to fourth with 300 to go, but – in his words – ‘got a little pissed off’ at the bell, and kicked hard to move back into second place (9:24.14) and get the team 8 of the 18 points we needed, keeping the dream alive. And it really did seem like a dream … ,” Billing recounted in an email.
Hall entered the final event, the 4×400, trailing NFA by 9 points – the only team close enough for the overall win, but with very strong competition in the event. Hall was seeded fourth with a qualifying score of 3:34, but that was from early in the season, and Billing said they believed on a “great day” they could run in the low 3:30s. Danbury wasn’t seeded as high as Hall, but had the anchor from their 2018 record-setting team back.
Billing provided the exciting play-by-play details, which can also be viewed in the video below, recorded by Roger Anderson.
Senior Blake Morin, one of the team captains, had only run the 400 once all season – in 54 seconds – but the coaches knew he had run the 400 in 52 outdoors last spring, and believed in him, Billing said.
“Leading off the 4x he ran very smart, staying in control the first 300 in about fourth place, at which point he turned on the jets around the final turn, pushing to the front opening up a full second lead with a 52.2 monster split,” said Billing.
Freshman Tobi Ruffo, a varsity soccer player and mid-distance runner, took the baton next. He had already set a PR in the 600m earlier in the day, and the coaches opted for the young talent, who perfectly-executed the coaches’ plan and ran his leg in 53.9, keeping about a full second lead overall.
“At this point the dream was starting to look like it could actually happen,” said Billing.
“Our final two legs were both coming back for their third event, but both are college-bound senior athletes who have been here before. Senior Muhammad Ali (who earlier led off in the 4×800 relay, where Hall finished fourth, and took fourth in the 600) got the baton – although the handoff looked very very scary as his grip went to the very top edge of the baton. Mo ran two incredible laps,” said Billing. With a 52.5 split, Hall had a lead of more than 3 seconds.
Senior Miller Anderson, also a team captain, was the anchor. Anderson had already won the 1000m and anchored the 1600 sprint medley to a second-place finish earlier in the meet.
“Miller brought it home in 51.9, about 1.7 seconds ahead of Danbury in second, whose anchor came from fifth and must have split a 48. Our final time was 3:31.34,” said Billing.
Hall’s win in the 4×400 gave the team 10 points, and pushed the Warriors ahead of NFA, 60 to 59, for the third consecutive indoor track and field title. Glastonbury (52.7), Danbury (45), and Wilbur Cross (44), rounded out the top five.
Between indoor and outdoor track and field, Hall has four state titles in the past three years. And Billing said it’s absolutely amazing that three of four were won on the final event.
Points earned for the boys team included third place in the 4×200 (Joseph Morin, Yovan Rivera, Isaiah Lizardi, and Jordaine Wisdom); fourth place in the 4×800 (Ali, Jackson Grady, Joshua Fernandes, and Austin Blodgett); Anderson’s win in the 1000m; a fifth-place finish by Dylan Rendon in the 1000m; Ali’s fourth-place finish in the 600; Cormier’s second-place finish in the 1600, and a second-place finish for the sprint medley relay (Morin, Rivera, Lizardi, Anderson).
“One of the things that I think is the coolest is that we are the only school in the state to have all four of the boys relays and girls relays going to the State Open,” said Sampietro. “That’s a really good measure of your running program.”
The Hall girls had a strong day as well, finishing in seventh place overall, with highlights including a second-place finish in the 1600 spring medley (Lexi Nieves, Jessica Mason, Mia Healer, and Rose Kitz), and some very strong performances in the field.
Taryn Smith finished fifth in the high jump, Olivia Bowes had a great day in long jump, and Hall had three of the top five finishes in the shot put, with Kathryn George in second, Mira Mohler in fourth, and Dinaka Onoh in fifth.
“It was just a really fun day of track and field – really fun events, regardless of the outcome,” said Sampietro.
From Conard, senior Kate Shaffer won the 55m dash in 7:24. The Conard girls 1600 sprint medley team (Shaffer, Allison Schneider, Molly Binder, and Liana Eisler) took fourth place; and Claire Ittleson placed fifth in pole vault. Schneider plaid sixth in the high jump.
Sophomore Tyler Remigino of Conard had a personal best time in the 1600 that qualified him for the State Open, and the Conard boys 4×200 relay team (Brenden Hill, Jack Mello, Nathan Rinaldi, and Ryan Farley) set a new school record time of 1:36.31 that also qualified them for the State Open.
The State Open will take place on Saturday, Feb. 16, at noon, at the Floyd Little Athletic Center in New Haven.
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