H-K Cross Country Continues its Remarkable Run
The Haddam-Killingworth boys’ cross country team is having another great season in 2020. The Cougars are 5-0 on the year and most recently swept a meet against Valley Regional and North Branford. (Photo courtesy of Matt Diglio )
The H-K girls’ cross country squad earned victories versus North Branford and Valley Regional last week to run its record to 5-0 in the 2020 season. (Photo courtesy of Matt Diglio )
Senior captain Matt Jennings clocked in with a time of 18:13 to take first place for the Cougars in last week’s tri-meet sweep. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Source | Buy This Photo)
Meara Bodak is leading the H-K girls’ cross country team with fellow senior captains Gabby Flaherty and Kathy Melgar this season. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Source | Buy This Photo)
When Matt Diglio took over as head coach of the Haddam-Killingworth cross country program 14 years ago, he didn’t realize that the Cougars were going to achieve such a tremendous level of success. He also didn’t realize that he was going to love coaching the team so much.
Diglio ran track at Duke University and, once he finished his undergraduate studies, decided to pursue his master’s degree at Southern Connecticut State University with a goal of becoming a physical education and health teacher. In 2006, Diglio began his tenure as a cross country and track coach at Haddam-Killingworth.
As the Cougars pace their way through the 2020 season, H-K’s boys’ and girls’ teams remain two of the most successful cross country squads in the state of Connecticut. The boys’ team hasn’t lost a dual-meet in nearly seven years, while the girls’ team hasn’t lost a dual-meet in the past five years.
Last season, the girls’ team finished first at both the Shoreline Conference Championship and the Class SS State Championship with the boys’ team winning its sixth-straight Shoreline Conference title to go with a second-place finish at the Class M State Championship. Both clubs are undefeated thus far in 2020.
“They’re just a really terrific group of kids, and they’ve built the tradition,” Coach Diglio said. “Growing up, my dad was a high school cross country and track coach, so it was nice to kind of follow in his footsteps. Going to meets with him as a kid inspired me.”
The H-K boys’ cross country team has a record of 5-0 this fall. The Cougars have recorded victories over Old Saybrook, Cromwell, Coginchaug, Valley Regional, and North Branford.
In the boys’ first meet of the season, the Cougars defeated Old Saybrook 22-39. They then followed that up with a 25-30 win against Cromwell. In its next competition, H-K claimed a 15-50 victory versus Coginchaug.
Last week, the Cougars earned 15-50 wins over both Valley Regional and North Branford in a meet at H-K High School on Oct. 20. H-K’s final meet of the regular season was against Morgan on Oct. 27 (after press time).
Senior captain Matt Jennings has been the Cougars’ top runner throughout the season, most recently posting a first-place time of 18 minutes and 13 seconds in last week’s meet. He also finished first in the meet with Coginchaug by recording a time of 18:02. Jennings took first place at last year’s Shoreline Conference Championship, is a three-time All-State runner, and also made the All-New England Team in 2019.
The H-K boys’ team also features senior Max Cozean, juniors Greyson Merola, Andrew Hedges, and Caleb Freeman, along with sophomore Jack Insalaco.
While Coach Diglio feels happy that the team is performing so well, the Cougars understand that there is a bigger picture behind them as they’re traversing the trails.
“They’ve done really well considering the circumstances with the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve always been a very goal-oriented team, but this year, we really changed our perspective on things,” said Diglio. “We are just grateful to compete, and we aren’t necessarily as concerned with winning this year. We want to be safe and be able to race.”
The CIAC established a set of guidelines for all fall teams to follow during their respective seasons. In cross country, every runner is required to wear a mask if he or she is not competing. When the race does start, runners need to be spaced out by at least six feet. There is also no chute at the finish line. So, when an athlete’s race concludes, that person must put his or her mask back on and then maintain proper social distance.
“I’m just really proud of the kids and how they’ve handled this tough situation,” Diglio said. “I feel bad for the seniors, because this isn’t a normal season, but we are making the most of it.”
The H-K girls’ cross country squad has also been turning in dominant performances this season as the Cougars are currently sporting a record of 5-0. After earning wins versus Old Saybrook (26-33), Cromwell (17-44), and Coginchaug (22-36), H-K swept a home meet with Valley Regional and North Branford last week.
The Cougars defeated Valley Regional by a 21-40 score and claimed a 15-50 win over North Branford at H-K High School on Oct. 20. Just like the boys’ team, H-K’s regular-season finale was against Morgan on Oct. 27.
Senior captain Meara Bodak is leading H-K alongside fellow senior captains Kathy Melgar and Gabby Flaherty this year. Bodak is a two-time All-Shoreline Conference First Team runner who also made the All-State Team last season.
The Cougars’ pack also include juniors Ava DiMatteo, Brianna Minervino, sophomore Izzy Berardino, and freshman Sydney Adelberg. Berardino took first place in last week’s meet with a time of 22 minutes and 41 seconds, marking an eight-second improvement from her previous race in which she finished second at 22:49.
H-K is still uncertain about whether it will be competing in any postseason meets this fall. Consequently, Coach Diglio wants his runners, especially his seniors, to enjoy every second of their final regular-season competition versus Morgan this week.
“It’s one of those questions where you don’t want the season to end,” Diglio said. “But at the same time, it’s one of those double-edged swords. You want the end to come, so that these seniors are able to finish out on their terms, but you don’t want to rush it. Hopefully, we’ll be able to have that experience for the kids.”