Cross country: Lynch, Hoelzl qualify for New Englands

For two Wilton High senior cross country standouts, the goal was the same — but the paths they took to get there were not.

For Mary Lynch and Justin Hoelzl, the objective was to make it to the New England cross country championships. Lynch was aiming to qualify for the fourth time in four years, while Hoelzl was looking to qualify for the first time.

Both succeeded by posting top-25 finishes at Friday’s State Open at Wickham Park in Manchester.

Hoelzl finished 17th in the boys race, while Lynch took 13th in the girls race.

The New England Championships will be held next Saturday at Thetford Academy in Thetford, Vt.

It was a big achievement in what has already been a huge senior season for Hoelzl, who had finished second at last week’s Class L meet.

On Friday, despite battling sickness and with temperatures in the 70s, he managed to lower his time from the previous week by four seconds with a 16:25 on the same 5,000-meter course.

“I was happy with how I did. I was sick the last couple of days, and I’m still kind of sick today. My mouth was really dry before the race, which usually doesn’t happen,” he said. “It was really humid today, which really was throwing me off.”

After just barely sidestepping a big pile-up of runners very early in the race, Hoelzl focused on improving his position.

“I just kept trying to move up throughout the race. With probably half a mile to go I was moving, and I think the dehydration just hit me and I couldn’t really kick it in like I normally do, and maybe one or two kids passed me. But I’m still happy with how I did.”

“Justin had a goal to be all-state. He ran hard every race. He didn’t sit any races out. In some ways I was a little worried he may have run too many hard races, but he’s a strong kid,” said coach Jim Gerweck. “He probably ran a little better last week. It was a tough day out there today.”

Junior Aaron Breene, who also qualified for the Open, finished 39th on Friday with a time of 17:07, which was a little disappointing for him after running a 16:43 last week at Wickham in the Class L meet, placing seventh.

“It’s the first time he’s been in a race this competitive. He got kind of buried. He probably had a little more left but couldn’t get by people,” Gerweck said. “It’s a learning experience. This is his first year running cross country.”

Hoelzl improved his time by 33 seconds over last year’s State Open, when he finished 52nd.

“I trained a lot harder this year than I ever have. With running it’s not really that much talent, it’s just really hard work. So I trained hard over the summer and Aaron and I really pushed each other hard during the season, and I’m really happy with how we did.”

The FCIAC had a great showing in the boys State Open, with Staples taking first and Danbury second in the team standings, and Fairfield Warde placing sixth and also qualifying for New Englands. Ridgefield was ninth and Darien 11th.

FCIAC runners also swept the top two individual spots, with Eric van der Els of Brien McMahon winning in a time of 15:47 and Gabriel Altopp of Ridgefield taking second in 15:55.

In the girls race, Lynch didn’t match her performance at the Open from a year ago, when she placed 10th in a time of 19:11. But she still manage to finish 13th with a strong kick, passing six runners in the final 400 meters. Her time of 19:40 was seven seconds slower than last week’s time at the Class L meet.

“Every year the competition gets harder and harder. I’m always happy with what I get,” Lynch said after the race.

She said the unseasonably warm temperatures had a big effect on the race.

“The course is almost different with such a big temperature change. You have to rethink how you’re running it,” she said. “It was difficult but I tried to push through and tried to get through it mentally, even though physically it was difficult.”

It is the third year in a row that Lynch has qualified for the New England Championships as an individual, and fourth year in a row that she’s going to New Englands. She competed at New Englands as a member of the Wilton team as a freshman.

As a team, it was a tough day for the Wilton girls, who finished 13th and had a team time that was more than three minutes slower than a week earlier on the same course.

“I thought the girls had a shot to be top eight,” said coach Jeff Gee, noting that one runner didn’t finish the course and several others had off-days. “You’re only as good as your fifth runner,” he noted.

Sophomore Morgan McCormick and junior Erika Bonnist capped off strong debut seasons by finishing second and third on the team, respectively.

McCormick was 56th in a time of 20:48 and Bonnist 82nd in 21:07. Both had slightly slower times than the week before.

“They were both solid performances I was hoping for maximal performances,” Gee said.

Sophomore Elizabeth Lynch was the team’s fourth runner, taking 132nd overall in a time of 22:14, followed by juniors Elizabeth Healy (149th, 22:45) and Nina Mellin (167th, 23:37).

Tolland won the girls Open title, followed by Glastonbury. Ridgefield (third) and Staples (fourth) also qualified for the New England meet.

Hannah Debalsi Staples was the individual winner for the third straight year, in a time of 18:08 — beating runner-up Katherine Deloreto of Tolland by nearly a minute.