MANCHESTER — It was a soggy, muddy day, the kind of day that made one girl cry before the race even started and every girl’s legs resemble Uta Pippig’s after the 1996 Boston Marathon (if that reference lost you, be thankful).
Saturday’s New England Interscholastic Girls’ Cross Country Championship at Wickham Park presented an unpleasant challenge, to be sure, but Naugatuck’s Rosa Moriello was prepared to meet it, placing ninth with a time of 19 minutes, three seconds. It was the senior superstar’s second straight top-10 finish at the event; she was eighth at Derryfield Park in Manchester, N.H. a year ago.
“It didn’t really feel like New Englands because we didn’t have to travel,” Moriello said. “I’m happy with the way I ran. Nine is my favorite number.”
Though her time was nine seconds slower than the 18:54 she ran on the same course at the State Open eight days earlier, Moriello looked stronger than she had in recent weeks. On a killer hill around the midpoint of the course, where her face appeared ashen at the Open, she powered up the incline with a lead pack of about a dozen contenders.
“She had to run a better race today [than at the State Open] to run a slower time,” Naugy coach Bill Hanley said, recognizing the sloppy conditions that forced a moderate pace. “Today was one of the first times this season that she’s called on her body, and her body responded.”
Moriello’s time was 40 seconds faster than it was at the rainy Class L championship Oct. 31, also at Wickham.
As the leaders neared the final climb, Emily Durgin of Cheverus High School (Maine), last year’s runner-up, and Kelsey Smith of Exeter (N.H.) started to pull away. Durgin’s kick proved better, and the sophomore won in 18:35. Bunnell’s Lauren Sara made a gutsy push to the line, edging Heidi Caldwell of Hanover (N.H.) by a second to take third in 18:45.
The race served as a reaffirmation of just how loaded with talented runners Connecticut is. For the second consecutive year, the Constitution State claimed six of the top 12 spots. Moriello was the only repeat among the half dozen.
Class LL runner-up Reid Watson of Glastonbury finished sixth in 18:52, Class L and State Open runner-up Meg Ryan of Fairfield Warde took eighth in 18:57, Class LL champion Lindsay Crevoiserat of Glastonbury was 11th in 19:10, and Open winner Jackie Nicholas crossed the line 12th in 19:14.
After she had changed into dry clothes and had a few minutes to process the run, Moriello came to a nostalgic realization: “That was my last cross country race in Connecticut, ever,” she said. “Wow, that’s kind of sad. I wish I did better.”
Then her dad, Raffaelle, ever the optimist, reminded his daughter, “There are about 250 girls who wish they were in your spot.”
Actually, it’s 252.
“Wow,” Moriello said. “That’s a great way to think about it.”