The East Hampton Middle School cross country teams hosted and won the Rich LaFave Mid-State Middle School League Meet on October 20. Both the boys and girls teams finished first as a team, each wrapping up the 2021 season undefeated.
“They are such dedicated, hard-working, fun-living kids,” said head coach Joanna Mercaldi, who coaches both teams. “Every meet that we had they always wanted to improve and challenge themselves, whether it was challenging themselves or each other. They had that internal drive and that internal motivation. You could see them blossoming as the season went on, it was awesome.”
On the boy’s side, Declan Russell was the first East Hampton runner to cross the finish line at the league meet, placing second overall. Russell was joined by Holden Hines, Nico Borrelli, Andrew Hawk, and Brett Gustavson as the boys finished first overall as a team.
On the girl’s side, Jocelyn Gustavson was the school’s first runner to cross, also finishing second overall. Joining Gustavson for the team win were Maddie Daniels, Brianna Gustavson, Abigail Hambidge, and Maddie McMillian for the overall girls win.
East Hampton Middle School hosted the event for the first time after the normal host school was unable to accommodate the league meet.
The other schools who participated were: McGee Middle School (Berlin), Beman Middle School (Middletown), RHAM, Griswold Middle School (Rocky Hill).
Last year the middle school teams were unable to have a league meet during a modified season featuring enhanced COVID-19 protocols.
“We were lucky enough with the support of our athletic director, administration and our superintendent last season. We still had a season, it was just abbreviated. Not all of our teams in our league ran last year so we were running against other teams outside our league. This year we were excited to be back to normal, running against the teams we typically run against,” added Mercaldi, who has been teaching at the middle school for 22 years and coaching the cross country teams for over 10 years.
The league meet was the cherry on top of a fantastic year for a group of over 60 runners that Mercaldi called her “dream team.”
“It was exciting, especially for the eighth graders, to have that league meet. They remember it as sixth graders and they wanted to have it again,” Mercaldi said, “It was their last hooray and I was going to make sure that we, the coaches, do everything we could for them. They’ve worked so hard all season, they were having a great season, and they all got along. They were really focused during practices and meets, and they challenged themselves. It wasn’t just athletically, it was their character and sportsmanship as well.”
Mercaldi coaches both teams with the help of assistant coaches Ken Landry and Carl Pastor. The three released a joint statement, saying, “The coaches would like to thank all the parents and EHMS staff who volunteered for this meet as well as for the regular season races. Coaches would also like to thank the EHMS Athletic Director, Mr. Mercaldi, for agreeing to host and set up for our league meet. Lastly, thanks to our administration for supporting the teams with this event, as well as the regular season.”
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin