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Article Published January 4, 2021

North Haven Cross Country Overcomes the Obstacles

By By Dan Fappiano

The North Haven cross country program had to battle through numerous obstacles with the new rules and regulations that were put in place due to COVID-19 for the 2020 fall season. Despite those challenges, North Haven’s runners worked together to overcome them and become a family by the end of the year.

At the beginning of the season, the athletes on North Haven’s boys’ and girls’ cross country teams were split up into cohorts of 10 for their training. One cohort would run on the track, while the other would run on the roads closest to the high school, with each cohort alternating days. In addition to that major change, Head Coach Carl Jackson said that this year’s competition was much different than previous seasons due to the divisional restructuring made by the CIAC.

“If we were going to have cross country this season, we could only face teams within a 30-mile limit. They restructured the divisions this year,” Jackson said. “We were in a group with Guilford, Hand, Branford, and East Haven. We considered ourselves to be in a much-tougher division, and hence the competition was quite different this year.”

After competing in their four regular-season meets, North Haven’s teams hit the trails to take part in the SCC’s postseason competition. This year, the SCC hosted four divisional races and then merged the performances from those meets to also form the overall conference standings. The North Haven boys’ team finished 3rd in Division A and 15th in the SCC, while the girls’ squad placed 4th for Division A and 16th in the conference.

Senior captain Nick Howlett led the way for the boys’ team by finishing in 17th place for the Division A Championship and 55th in the SCC with a time of 18 minutes and 56 seconds. Senior Aaron Barbiero ran a time of 20:05 to finish 22nd in Division A and 86th for the SCC, while senior captain Tiernan Neville placed 23rd in the division and 96th in the conference with a time of 20:19.

Junior Zach McCarthy clocked in with a time of 22:48 to take 25th place in Division A and 137th place in the SCC. Freshman AJ Signore (25:37) finished 28th in the division and 146th in the conference, senior Cameron Cargan (25:37) came in 29th for the division and 147th in the conference, and freshman Alexander Molyneaux (25:46) finished 30th in the division and 148th for the conference.

On the girls’ side, sophomore Payton Orosco put forth the top finish for North Haven by running a time of 24:15 to finish in 15th place at the SCC Division A Championship and 58th in the SCC outright. Sophomore Carina Esposito finished 22nd in the division and 111th in the conference with a mark of 28:02.

Senior captain Taya Stanley ran a time of 29:30 to place 26th in Division A and 127th in the SCC. Freshman Jade Lewis (29:39) finished 28th in division and 128th in the conference, freshman Amelia Shaw (32:27) came in 31st place for the division and 135th in the conference, and junior Gianna Mele (32:35) finished 32nd in the division and 136th for the conference.

Coach Jackson was unable to attend the SCC meet due to quarantine measures. Consequently, volunteer assistant Nancy Schreiber stepped in to coach the team at the meet.

“I brought a boys’ and a girls’ team to the divisional meet. We were affected by the virus a little bit. It was a mixed group of varsity and JV that I brought on both sides,” said Schreiber. “They certainly all earned the right to be there. I said, ‘This is your day. You’ve worked hard to get here. Run your last race and try to get your very best performance.’ For some, it was the first time they competed in a championship meet, while for others, they were just looking to get the best time they could.”

Howlett, Neville, and Patrick Rourke led the boys’ team as its senior captains this season. Coach Jackson said that all three captains brought experience and leadership to the team and helped keep everyone unified.

North Haven’s senior class also featured Barbiero, Cargan, Cole Begin, and Jason Wong. Jackson felt that every member of his experienced senior group proved a quality leader.

“This was one of the most experienced senior classes we’ve had. With that experience, they were able to help the new runners to develop good practice habits and be competitive,” Jackson said. “They taught them what they needed to do at meets and how to work hard every meet and every practice. Even if they weren’t captains, they showed strong leadership qualities.”

The captains for the girls’ team were senior Stanley and junior Riley Minns. Coach Jackson said that Stanley did a solid job of helping both the returning runners and newcomers improve throughout the summer and preseason. The coach added that Minns was a strong leader as a junior. With Stanley being the lone senior on the girls’ team, Coach Jackson feels pleased that North Haven will be returning a host of experienced runners next fall.

“During this season, the athletes were able to work together as a group and learn a lot. They were able to practice and compete as a group. They got a chance to learn from each other,” said Jackson. “With this large of a group returning next year, it gives us an opportunity to start at a much higher point on the learning curve next season. We don’t have to build ourselves up to that point.”

Coach Schreiber said that while the 2020 season was certainly an unconventional one, she was happy to see North Haven’s athletes gain a better appreciation for the sport and take advantage of every opportunity that was available to them.

“Always stay positive. Take advantage of each and every race. In this situation, we weren’t sure if there was going to be a next competition. We had that unknown in front of us,” Schreiber said. “We could only control what we were doing. Just go for it each and every race. Run it like it’s going to be your last race and do your very best.”

There was a lot of solidarity among North Haven’s athletes as they worked their way through the recent season. Going forward, Coach Jackson is hopeful that his returning athletes will learn from the experience of the past few months and continue building a family culture at North Haven.

“It is a true team environment. Both the girls and the boys consider that being on the cross country team is also having a second family of people that they know,” Jackson said. “They come to practice every day, and they know they’re going to see these people. They know they’re going to work with a good group of students. They would consider this to be a good group to get in with, a fun group, and a group that works really hard.”

The athletes on the North Haven boys’ cross country team are senior captains Nick Howlett, Tiernan Neville, and Patrick Rourke; seniors Aaron Barbiero, Cole Begin, Cameron Cargan, and Jason Tong; juniors Kieran Alexandro, Nick Bracale, Samuel Crowley, Kyle Guo, David Hazall-Farell, Zach McCarthy, Edward Michael Moore, Jr., Luke Nugent, Kevin Rourke, and Michael Rubano; sophomores Braeden Hess and Tyler Wurm; and freshmen Jack Green, Alexander Molyneaux, Luke Reilly, Conor Rourke, and AJ Signore.

The members of the North Haven girls’ cross country squad are senior captain Taya Stanley; junior captain Riley Minns; juniors Ari Collins, Jenna Courville, Caitlyn McFarland, Gianna Mele, Sophia Melillo, Caley Neville, and Mya Vasquez; sophomores Carina Esposito, Ava Ferriouolo, Payton Orosco, and Elisabetta Sposito; and freshmen Jade Lewis, Amelia Shaw, and Veruca Tebbetts.