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Junior Wesley Raymond and the Branford boys’ cross country team put forth an valiant effort amid an array of challenges this year. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
Junior Isla Lionetti finished in 10th place when the Hornets’ girls’ cross country squad competed at the SCC Division A Championship meet. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
Senior captain Patricio Banegas Orellana showed his outstanding leadership qualities by helping organize Branford’s workouts leading up to the 2020 season. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
Senior captain Steph Toste led the Branford girls’ cross country team alongside fellow senior Maddy Steinman this fall. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
Throughout the 2020 season, the athletes on Branford’s boys’ and girls’ cross country teams had to deal with a variety of schedule changes and quarantine procedures. While this season brought forth different challenges than years past, Head Coach Kevin Connell said that the Hornets made the best of their situation and worked together to remain resilient.
“It gave kids more time to put in some work. Granted, a lot of it was pretty much on their own. We had to really rely on captains to organize groups,” said Connell. “When we were finally able to practice towards the end of August, beginning of September, things went well. It gave us a lot of time that we don’t normally get to work on training that was necessary.”
The Branford boys’ team finished with a record of 2-6 for its dual-meet season. Unfortunately, the boys were unable to compete at the Southern Connecticut Conference’s championship meet, because they were forced to quarantine.
It was a difficult couple of days for the Hornets when they found out that they couldn’t run at SCCs, especially since they were familiar with the course at East Shore Park and were looking forward to the meet. However, even though his team was unable to participate in its final race of the year, Coach Connell said that the setback gave everyone on the squad more of an appreciation for competing.
“They wanted a really good ending. They really wanted to run well. I’m hoping they come out of this more resilient and realize that things do happen. But if they happen, you have to come out of it,” Coach Connell said. “It’s a good group of young guys that will return next year. I think they’ll have a deeper appreciation for the season.”
The boys’ team featured two seniors on its roster: Patricio Banegas Orellana and Brennan Hynes, who both served as Branford’s captains. Coach Connell said that his captains played a pivotal role in keeping the team together during the season.
“They took on that responsibility to organize. As coaches, we knew there were big limitations to what we could do. Our school district set some pretty strict guidelines in that aspect, but the captains stepped into that role,” said Connell. “Over the summer, they would email me the plan they had, who was going to have what kids, and when they were going to meet. They stuck with their cohorts.”
Coach Connell was pleased to see junior Wesley Raymond emerge as Branford’s top performer this fall. Connell credited Raymond for working hard throughout the season, in addition to doing a lot of work on his own. The Hornets’ coach added that Raymond was able to cut his time by more than a minute from last year, and that the junior’s dedication showed the younger athletes what can be achieved if you put in the necessary work.
On the girls’ side, the Hornets posted a dual-meet record of 3-5 record for the 2020 campaign. On Nov. 4, Branford finished its season by competing in the SCC Division A Championship, taking third place in the division and 15th place for the conference overall.
Junior Isla Lionetti delivered the Hornets’ top performance by clocking in with a mark of 23:04 for the race. Lionetti finished in 10th place in Division A and 32nd in the SCC.
Sophomore Hannah Jackson ran a time of 23:42 to place 14th in the divisional meet and 49th for the conference standings. Junior Bella Finta crossed the finish line in 25:37 to finish 19th in Division A and 79th in the SCC overall.
Sophomore Taylor Tracy recorded a mark of 28:59 to finish 25th in the division and 124th in the conference. Senior Maddy Steinman turned in a time of 31:14 to finish 30th for Division A and 133rd in the SCC.
Just like the boys’ team, the girls featured just two seniors on their roster in Steinman and Stephanie Toste. Steinman and Toste served as Branford’s captains, and Coach Connell said that they both were effective when it came to making sure that everyone stayed unified.
Heading into next year, Connell is hoping that the experience of the 2020 season showed his athletes how important it is to appreciate every day that they’re able to compete.
“Appreciate the time you have. They relied on each other a lot. They got a taste of what they could be. On the boys’ side, there were some meets where we would have eight guys all within about a minute. That’s pretty good,” Connell said. “Can we take that another notch where we all improve by 30 seconds, 45 seconds? Then you become a pretty competitive team. Hopefully, with a COVID-free next fall, we should be able to add more people to the program.”
As the Hornets dealt with various obstacles, Coach Connell felt proud to see his runners stay close through it all. Connell believes that this year’s team continued strengthening the solid chemistry of the Branford cross country program.
“Traditionally, it has been a pretty close-knit group,” said Connell. “They’re all excellent students, and they bring that attitude with them to the sport. They like to have fun. They bring a positive energy to us.”
The Branford boys’ cross country squad’s roster featured senior captains Patricio Banegas Orellana and Brennan Hayes; juniors William Mollow, Wesley Raymond, Graham Reynolds, Wyatt Reynolds, Benjamin Watson, Cheng Wu, and Patrick Zdunek; sophomores Carter Burgess, Massimo Corrick, Colin Donahoe, and Keegan LaLonde; and freshmen Hari Amin, Samuel Coppola, Parsa Malahiazar, Tanner Marrandino, Carter Moore, and Dominick Zdunek.
The Hornets’ girls’ cross country team’s roster included senior captains Maddy Steinman and Steph Toste; juniors Bella Finta and Isla Lionetti; and sophomores Hannah Jackson, Marina Smiarowski, and Taylor Tracy.