Guilford Cross Country Enjoys a Championship Season
Senior Tanner Updyke came in first place when the Guilford boys’ cross country squad earned top honors at the SCC Division A Championship this year. Guilford also finished second as a team in the overall SCC standings. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier)
Junior captain Julia Antony took second place in both Division A and the SCC outright to help the Guilford girls’ cross country team claim divisional and conference crowns in 2020. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier)
Senior Jackson Tandler (left) and fellow senior Caleb Harris (right) helped Guilford bounce back from a loss against Hand to turn in a championship performance at the SCC’s postseason meet. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier)
Junior captain Olivia Skapczynski and the Guilford girls’ cross country squad continued their tradition of excellence on the trails this fall. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier)
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March, Guilford cross country coach Jon Rivera had no idea about the impact that the virus would have entering the 2020 fall season. What Rivera did know was that his athletes would have to prepare for the worst possible circumstance and be ready to change course on a moment’s notice, because nothing was guaranteed.
With that approach, Guilford’s boys’ and girls’ cross country teams both came away with first-place finishes at the Southern Connecticut Conference Division A Championship. The girls’ team also took first place in the SCC overall, while the boys posted a second-place finish in the conference standings, as both teams finished their respective seasons on a healthy and high note.
“I think everyone in all sports and all teams was in uncharted territory, battling changes to how they run their teams to compete and so on. On our team, it was a quick changeover, and we all adjusted to the changes very well,” Coach Rivera said. “The schedule was very fluid, and we were prepared for changes. We approached the season like at any point it could end, and we were grateful for any opportunity to compete. We let the kids put all their hard work and training on display.”
On Nov. 4, the SCC held four divisional meets (A, B, C, and D) for both girls’ and boys’ cross country and then merged the performances from those meets to also determine the standings for the SCC outright. In the end, the Guilford girls’ team finished first in both the Division A Championship and in the SCC, with the boys’ team placing first in Division A and second in the SCC standings. This season marked the fourth year in a row and the 16th time overall that the girls’ team won the conference title.
In the girls’ Division A race, Guilford competed against Branford, Hand, and North Haven. Guilford’s top five runners finished in second through sixth place to lead Guilford to the crown.
Junior captain Julia Antony took second place in the race by running a time of 19 minutes and 54 seconds for Guilford. Antony was followed by sophomore Olivia Kaisin, (3rd, 21:21), junior captain Katrina Muhs (4th, 21:23), junior Lorelei King (5th, 21:31), and sophomore Ursula Adams (6th, 21:31). In the overall SCC rankings, Antony was second, Kaisin took ninth place, Muhs finished 10th, King placed 11th, and Adams finished 13th.
Antony, Kaisin, Muhs, and King each earned All-SCC First Team honors, and Antony also garnered All-State recognition. Adams solidified a spot on the All-SCC Second Team on behalf of Guilford.
“This season has been inspirational and something I am very proud of,” said Adams.
At the SCC’s postseason meet, the Guilford girls were additionally represented by junior captain Olivia Skapczynski, who placed eighth in Division A and 17th for the SCC with a time of 21:48. Sophomore Clara Laughlin (9th in the division and 23rd in the conference at 22:11), junior Eliza McCoole (12th and 38th at 23:16), junior Paige Crowley (13th and 44th at 23:31), and freshman Michaela Hogan (16th and 59th at 24:19) also competed for Head Coach Jim Ford’s squad.
The Guilford boys faced a smaller field in their SCC Division A race, running against Hand and North Haven. Senior Tanner Updyke claimed first place overall by clocking in with a time of 17:21 for Guilford. Junior captain Justin Shiffrin finished second at 17:25 and was followed across the finish line by sophomore Ryan Franchi (4th, 17:43), sophomore Michael Masotti (5th, 17:44), and senior Jackson Tandler (15th, 18:38). In the overall SCC standings, Updyke finished fifth, Shiffrin took seventh, Franchi placed 13th, Masotti finished 14th, and Tandler came in 48th place.
“I was very happy that, despite not getting a full season, we still were able to have races this fall,” said Tandler. “Despite not being able to compete in a SCC Championship meet, we competed hard and were able to end the season on a high note at the divisional.”
Updyke and Shiffrin were both All-SCC First Team and All-State honorees this season. Franchi and Massotti each earned All-SCC Second Team honors for Coach Rivera’s club.
“Tanner Updyke was a senior co-MVP and was the most consistent racer we had. He made the move in the championship race that really opened things up, and he worked so hard the last two years to get to that point. He was fantastic,” Coach Rivera said. “Justin Shiffrin did a great job co-leading summer runs and offseason training and being a top performer. Justin continued to build off his success from last year through all his hard work and determination.”
The other competitors for the boys’ team at the SCC meet were senior Caleb Harris, who placed 16th in the division and 52nd in the conference at 18:52, along with junior Carson Tosta (18th and 63rd at 19:14), sophomore Bretton Garrick (19th and 70th at 19:29), junior David Crair (20th and 76th at 19:40), and senior Ryan Tichy (26th and 141st at 23:01).
Coach Rivera said that his favorite part of the year was the way his team responded to its loss against Hand during the regular season. Rivera knew that mistakes were made, but was pleased to see the boys work their way through those struggles en route to winning the SCC Division A title shortly thereafter.
“The response we had to our off day at Madison, where we made some tactical errors and just got flat out beat by a very good team, was my favorite moment this season,” said Rivera. “No one doubted themselves. We believed we could battle back, and the confidence, patience, and preparation the boys displayed was amazing. We were prepared for what happened, we made our move, and it worked to perfection. It is not very often that happens.”
Adjusting to the COVID-19 safety guidelines was tough for both teams, but Coach Rivera said that everyone did the best they could with making the best of the new normal.
“We got used to it. We really missed having invitationals, because those are usually the best part of the season, for both the team-bonding aspect and the varied competition that prepares us for the end of the season,” Rivera said. “It was very different not having fans lined at the finish line and along the course cheering us on.”
With a strong core of runners returning, Coach Rivera’s expectations are for Guilford to build off of what the program achieved this year during the 2021 season. Rivera is hoping to have invitationals, state championships, and team banquets next year.
“We have a really strong base coming back. We will miss our seniors, but I think we can build off the season we had,” said Rivera. “We have a few freshmen that I think will be very involved with the varsity team next year if they are healthy. We also have a lot of upperclassmen depth that will be battling it out for one of those top seven spots.”