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Girls' Cross Country Looks To Follow Past Success!
Cheshire High School girls' cross country head coach Rob Schaefer has seen a lot of classes come and go, each holding a special of his heart. The Class of 2012 stood out for what they accomplished.
Prior to their arrival, Cheshire had never won back-to-back Housatonic Division titles. Last year represented the first three-peat in division history. Three years ago, Cheshire won their first Southern Connecticut Conference Championship since 1996 and finished second in the 2010 Class L Championship.
Those performances culminated in last year’s breakthrough. Cheshire captured the Haddad Windham (56 points) and Bethel (66) Invites, adding second in the Wickham Park Invite (105). They were 4-0 in the Housatonic and 7-1 overall. The Rams were the SCC runner-up (65) and earned third (124) within Class LL. Finally, after finishing eighth and seventh respectively at the State Open in consecutive seasons, the Lady Rams moved up to fourth last year and received a bid to the New England Championship in North Scituate, R.I. Making their first appearance since 1996, the program placed 14th (356).
“It is the third time we've qualified for New England and the highest finish,” reflected Schaefer. “It is one of the best classes I've had. All the girls got better here.”
Captains Amanda Chang, Tori Wickenheisser, Tesni Phillips, and Taylor Strange, along with Nicole Adam, vacated varsity spots.
“It’s definitely really strange because we’ve had them for all of the years we’ve been on the team, but a lot of girls are stepping up to fill their roles. We are having a good team atmosphere,” stated senior Hannah Purtell.
“Last year, that was amazing. None of us have been here when that has happened. It felt pretty great,“ reflected Kalbian. “After all the girls graduated, we weren’t really sure if we would be able to do it (qualify for New England) again, but now so many girls have stepped up. The younger girls have run, too, so I think we can do it (compete regionally again).”
Kalbian, juniors Kim Grove and Erin Strahley, and sophomore Elizabeth Cunningham return varsity experience. Kalbian, along with classmates Juliana Lewis, Purtell, and Madeline Tenenbaum, are captains.
“My senior captains (Kalbian, Juliana Lewis, Purtell, Madeline Tenenbaum) are dedicated and love this sport,” added Schaefer. “They know there is a lot of work to be done.”
“We all love the team, so we like to represent it,” said Lewis.
The senior class has ended each of their season as Housatonic Champions.
“It would be really nice,” said Tenenbaum, of winning it a fourth straight year. “When I was coming in as a freshman, they said we hadn’t won it in a couple years. Then, we’ve won it all the years we’ve been here, so that it was exciting.”
The division title is annually decided in the tri-meet between CHS, Amity, and Shelton. Cheshire dominated by taking eight of the top 10 spots last year at home. This year’s meeting is Oct. 9 in Woodbridge.
“It’s always nice to win a championship,” stated Schaefer. “I’m always nervous about running Amity. Shelton had a transitional year with a new coach last season.”
Guilford, the only team to beat CHS 18-39 in a dual meet last season, held off Cheshire to win their seventh SCC Championship (41) in eight years.
“The SCC is the deepest league in the state,” said Schaefer.
This will be the eighth and last season that Schaefer will coach a member of the Kalbian family. Irene Kalbian, a senior at Columbia University (Manhattan, N.Y.), ran number one all four years and Kathleen picked up right where she left off.
“Having seen my sister be a senior captain I was always excited for my senior year. Obviously I never knew if I was going to be the captain or not, but I was also excited to end my senior year because I saw how much fun she had,” said Kalbian, a three-time MVP. “It’s just been really exciting. I’m just so glad we finally made it.”
Kalbian won her first title at last year’s Bethel Invite (20:39.27). She made 2011 All-Housatonic/All-SCC (fourth, 19:52.65) and All-Class LL (11th, 20:04), finishing 27th overall at the State Open. Kalbian ended her season with 88th place (20:02) regionally.
“I always try not to think as much of all the titles,” explained Kalbian. “Obviously, they are in my mind, but I found if I think too much I ended up worrying and that doesn’t help.”
Schaefer wants her to strive for top three in the SCC, All-Class L, and All-State this year.
“It's been a blessing for me. I'm going to have a hard time without any Kalbians next year,” Schaefer said.
He sees similarities between the careers of Adam and Purtell. Adam was Most Improved in each of her last two seasons, the latter of which she shared the honor with Purtell. Adam became the number three runner last year and right now Purtell is filling the second spot in 2012.
“Hannah blossomed so much as a junior. She is doing great this year,” Schaefer explained.
“It feels really good. I put in a lot of hard work, so it’s good that it is finally paying off. I’m excited for the season,” stated Purtell.
Schaefer has found there to be a surprise contributor to the varsity team every year. Sharon Bian, a sophomore transfer from Branford, has emerged in the pre-season.
“I don't remember her when we ran them last year, but she is running third on our team,” said Schaefer.
“I’m excited to be here,” added Bian. “Everybody is really nice. I hope to stay on varsity.”
Grove, Strahley, Cunningham were part of an upperclassmen-based team last fall. Cunningham was 24th (21:19.71) at SCC, 39th (21:06) within Class LL, 116th (20:59) in the state, and 176th (21:00) at New England. Not only Cunningham make the varsity squad as a freshman, but she also joined Kalbian, Chang, Adam, Wickenheisser, and Phillips as All-Housatonic.
“Getting six of seven varsity girls on All-Housatonic is unheard of,” reflected Schaefer. “We've never had three All-SCC (Kalbian, Chang, Adam) until last season. We would love to do that again, but it is a tall order since there are only 12 spots.”
Strahley took 136th (21:14) through the 2011 State Open. Grove ran varsity in her first two years, but was hampered by injuries in 2011. She still finished 35th (21:50.95) in the SCC and 88th (22:23) at Class LL .
“She suffered from chronic back pain. We hope that she is not held back this year because Kim is very talented,” explained Schaefer.
Sophomore Natalie Wickenheisser has taken her sister's place on the varsity team.
“I think what Tori accomplished really inspired her,” said Schaefer.
According to Schaefer, there is friendly competition from nine girls trying to secure seven varsity spots. Sophomores Andrea Russo and Kendra Brown, along with senior Julie Trifone, are in the mix. Trifone played field hockey prior to changing sports this fall.
“It is really exciting to meet new people and see all the new talent. They have joined right in with the team. It’s just a big team atmosphere even though we have new people,” explained Tenenbaum.
Lewis and Tenenbaum return experience on junior varsity to start the season. They both want to break 22 minutes for a 5-K.
“They are great girls and great leaders,” added Schaefer.
“I think I want to feel really good before and after races because I really nervous before races sometimes,” said Lewis.
The lone home meet is Oct. 2 against division rival Sheehan at Cheshire Park. Four days later, Cheshire visits Manchester for the Wickham Invite.
“It is a bit disappointing because we like running on our home course obviously and having only one meet makes it tough to get to know our home course,” said Purtell.
“But, because there is only one, we’re really excited about it, we’re going to put our all into it and try and get as many people we can to come help us out,” Lewis added.
The Lady Rams open the dual-meet slate on Tuesday against host East Haven, Housatonic foe Lyman Hall, and North Haven. From there, Cheshire will be tested when they travel to Madison’s Surf Club to race host Daniel Hand on Sept. 24.
The SCC Championship is Oct. 18 at Hammonasset Beach State Park. When last year’s fall snow storm postponed class races last year, the State Open was moved to the same course in Madison.
“We knew Hammonasset very well, so it was a comfort level for the girls,” recalled Schaefer.
Cheshire has moved down from Class LL to L (Oct. 27) this fall.
“We’re not too worried about it,” said Lewis. “I know there are some competitive teams in the past, but I think we’re prepared for it.”
“I think we can get top three or four. Pomperaug, Wilton, and Hand are always tough to beat,” stated Schaefer.
His goal every season is to make the State Open to be held this year on Nov. 2 at Wickham Park.
“It is the best of the best in Connecticut. You want to say that you can compete for the state title,” said Schaefer.
Saturday’s Haddad Windham High School Invite starts the season at 9 a.m. While they can’t defend the Bethel Invite, the Lady Rams picked up the Winding Trails Farmington Meet on Sept. 29.