Cross country preview: Wilton girls should be among FCIAC's best

It may be a tall challenge for the Wilton High girls cross country team to win the FCIAC title this fall, given Ridgefield’s dominance, but 2016 should be the Warriors’ best shot since its last title in 2010.

It’s been a few years since the Wilton girls have had this much depth and talent.

“It’s stronger than it has been in a while,” said head coach Jeff Gee, whose team opens the season on Tuesday in Trumbull. “I think they have the potential to do extremely well.”

While the Warriors graduated their top runner, Mary Lynch (last year’s FCIAC runner-up), they return six of their top eight runners from a year ago, and add a pair of talented newcomers.

Junior Morgan McCormick will lead the team, after emerging as a top cross country and track runner in the FCIAC and state last school year.

Her first season of running last fall saw her score top-15 finishes at both the FCIAC and Class L meets. She followed that up with strong indoor and outdoor track seasons in the 3200 meters, and is poised to be one of the top runners in the FCIAC this fall.

Also back are senior captains Nina Mellin, Meaghan Downey and Elizabeth Healy, fellow senior Erika Bonnist, and junior Elizabeth Lynch — all of whom were in the team’s top seven last year.

“Right there you've got five runners who are all solid” behind McCormick, said Gee.

Bonnist, in her debut cross country season, was among the team’s top four at the FCIAC championship and both the Class L and State Open meets, while Lynch was in Wilton’s top four at both the Class L and State Open meets. Downey was the team’s third finisher at FCIACs.

A big addition this season will be sophomore Emily Welch, moving to cross country from soccer. Welch came on as one of Wilton’s top distance runners during the outdoor track season. She placed 17th in the 3200 at the state championship meet and ran a leg on Wilton’s 4x800 team that placed third.

Sophomore Carly Sullivan is also expected to make an impact this season.

Gee looks for contributions from returning seniors Sydney Brant and Ellie Armstrong, juniors Emma Westerholm, Carly Denneen and Devin Moore, and sophomore Hannah Bracken.

McCormick and Welch could give Wilton a great one-two punch at the top of the lineup, and Gee said that “when you have five or six solid runners after that, you have the potential to place well at some of the larger meets.”

Defending champ Ridgefield begins the season as the favorite to repeat, with most of its top runners back. Wilton should be in the mix as well, along with Greenwich and the two Fairfield schools.

With Staples’ Hannah DeBalsi and Mary Lynch graduating, Katelynn Romanchick of Trumbull appears to be the favorite for the FCIAC individual title going into the season, said Gee.

Boys outlook

The Wilton boys team is expected to go through some growing pains, with four sophomores making up half of the team’s top eight.

“It’s a very young team. We’re going to depend on a lot of sophomores,” said coach Jim Gerweck.

The Warriors lost their two top runners from last year, as Justin Hoelzl graduated and Aaron Breene returned to playing soccer his senior year. Both were all-FCIAC a year ago, with Hoelzl the Class L runner-up and a New England qualifier.

Breene placed seventh in Class L, and followed with strong track seasons, winning the 1000 meters at the indoor FCIAC and state meets, and the 800 at the outdoor Class L meet.

The Warriors also graduated another top seven runner in Patrick Moore.

Without Breene back, the team will be paced by two sophomores, Connor Drake and Flynn Crowther, who were usually the third and fourth finishers for Wilton, respectively, last season.

Two other top-seven runners from last year, senior Sean Cunningham and junior Luke Maloney, should round out the team’s top four. The final spots in the starting lineup will be filled from a group that includes sophomores Tyler Zengo and Ben Grass, junior Jonah Hirsch, and senior Carsten Langholm.

Wilton had a big freshman class this year, which bodes well for the future, along with a strong sophomore class. But for the present, the Warriors don’t have the experience or depth to expect much team success.

“We’re probably going to take our lumps and work on individual improvement as the seasons goes on,” said Gerweck.