Championship caliber track and field teams are built with an assortment of athletic talents and the Glastonbury girls had all the right pieces in 2021.
The Guardians swept through the regular season, before winning both the conference and class championships behind a group of athletes that were good as individuals and crowned champions as a team.
“In other years we might have been strong in certain areas but not all of them, so having a well-rounded team does make it a lot easier,” said head coach Brian Collins, “This year we had a great combination of jumpers, throwers, distance and sprinters.”
The Class LL championship triumph on June 1 marked the program’s first state title since 2010.
Collins credited his team captains, “All the captains are extension of the coaching staff. They know their roles, they know what is expected of them and they have stepped up and helped the younger kids. They want to succeed but they also want to have others succeed, not only this year but in the future.”
Emma Smith, Mallory Malz, Casey MacElhiney, Kate DeSousa, Molly Harding, Monica Robinson, and Meghan Smith served as captains. The six were anxious to hit the ground running after 2020’s outdoor track season was cancelled, and this winter’s indoor season was limited to practice-only.
“I think we all were just so excited to be able to compete again and do what we love. With so much being taken away from us this year because of COVID, track made it so easy to focus on what we still have,” said Emma Smith, “I love running next to these girls everyday, and I think we all used this to motivate us. This team is my family and when we run we run for each other, not just ourselves.”
Malz added, “The team has so much depth, from distance and sprints to the jumps and throws, it is definitely the work of each and every girl that has gotten our team to where it is. There’s no way you can just say that one person got us here, it really was a team effort of great performances across the board. The coaches have been a major part of our success as well. Their encouragement, passion, and commitment to the team has enabled us to become the best versions of ourselves, and the group as a whole is so dedicated, and the dynamic where we all feed off of each other’s energy has been incredible. I am so proud of these girls for rising to the occasion and doing the best to their abilities, and I feel so lucky to have been able to call them my teammates.”
Along with maneuvering around a pandemic, GHS was literally under construction this year. The renovations left the team without a Field House and other practice essentials, such as a Triple Jump Pit.
It did not slow down Malz, who broke her own triple jump record, as well as breaking the school’s pole vault record this spring.
Malz filled another team need this spring by competing in the long jump, adding more events and more championships to her resume.
“Mallory really didn’t do the long jump before this year, but we were really short on long jump girls, so we had her do it because she’s a really good athlete,” said Collins, who said the jumpers practiced their steps on the track and turf, “Our long and triple jumpers basically did it without a lot of practice and seeing Mallory jump over 17 feet and break the school record in the triple jump without a lot of practice is unbelievable.”
Collins’ runners were just as productive and diverse, spanning the distances and combining for some incredible relay results.
The 4x800 relay team (Ava Gattinella, Kelley MacElhiney, Casey MacElhiney, and Jackie Caron) won both the Class L Championship and the State Open, leaving no doubt they were the best 4x8 relay team in the state.
“The success my team and I have together is always extremely meaningful to me. It was especially special this year since a lot was taken away from us, so we had to make the most of every opportunity we had,” said Casey MacElhiney, who teamed with her younger sister, Kelley, for the relay championships, “Being on the winning 4x800 team with my sister was very important to me. We’ve always been a tight duo, so getting to achieve something as great as winning the State Open 4x800 together meant the world to me. I’m so proud of everything she and everyone on our team have accomplished this season.”
Collins admitted there were a lot of unknows coming into the season due to last year’s cancellation and the modified Indoor Track season this winter.
“We knew we had some good kids, but we just didn’t know how well they’d perform or how strong they would be,” he said, “I think they are very appreciative to be out there competing, especially because we weren’t able to compete in the indoor season. The kids appreciated it more, being at practice or just being around their friends.”
It was also a family affair in more ways than one. The team had several sets of sisters, including two sets of sophomore twins in Layla and Zoe Spann-McDonald and Alyssa and Caitlyn Healy.
The family dynamic created a welcoming atmosphere.
“The best part about it is that this team welcomed in anyone, whether they are a top athlete or an average or below average athlete. The expectations are the same for everyone and it’s about how hard you work every single day. They are all treated the same,” stated Collins, “We don’t do cuts, all are welcome as long as they are showing up and doing the work.”
Emma Smith added, “Track was a big part of my high school career, because we accept everyone, from the girls who are struggling to jog a lap, to the ones who are trying to break five minutes in the mile. My freshman year I was nowhere near as fast as I am now, but I still feel the same love and support that I did then. I don’t know how else to put into words how special this team is to me, and as hard as it is for me to say goodbye, they’ll always be in my heart.”
After steamrolling through the regular season, the Guardians won eight events to run away with Central Connecticut Conference crown, scoring 217 points at the CCC championship on May 25.
Malz won the pole vault, along with the triple and long jumps. Emma Smith won both the 100m hurdles and 300m hurdles.
Molly Harding, who battled a hamstring injury all year, won the 400m and Layla Spann-McDonald won the discus.
The 4x400 relay team (Alyssa Healy, Riley Carrol, Meghan Smith, and Emma Smith) also took home first place.
During the Class LL finals, the team placed or scored in 15 of the 18 events, besting runner-up Southington by over 20 points (109.50-88).
Collins said the championship victory was greater than he anticipated, “The coaches kid me because I set up a matrix before our meets. We went in knowing that is would probably be very close, especially with Southington, but Southington didn’t get as many points as we thought and our kids exceeded what we thought they would. A close meet turned out to be a 21-point win.”
Malz did her usually thing, winning three events, and the 4x800 took care of business.
Sophomore Jackie Caron was the runner-up in the 800m and freshman Ava Gattinella was a leg on the state champion 4x800.
“We knew what Jackie was capable of doing. She has so much potential, and he showed that she is one of the better distance runners in the state in my opinion,” said Collins, “We were fortunate to have Ava for cross country season and she was a big surprise. She worked hard during cross country season and during indoor season, and she was ready for outdoor season. As she saw her times getting better, she became a big part.”
The 4x100 (Hannah Caiola, Alyssa Healy, Emily Smith, and Riley Carroll) and the 4x400 (Alyssa Healy, Riley Carroll, Emily Smith, and Meghan Smith) placed second. Emma Smith finished third in the 100m hurdles, while Meghan Smith and Riley Carroll finished fourth and fifth in the 400m.
Layla Spann-McDonald placed fourth in the discus and Kate DeSousa finished fifth in the high jump.
Malz (Villanova), Casey MacElhiney (Lafayette) and Emma Smith (Tufts) will all be continuing their track and field dreams at the next level.
“Those three have continued to do the extra work and the best part about those three is that they took kids under their wings. All three are outstanding and they stepped up even without being asked,” said Collins.
Collins added that Emma Smith was instrumental in helping fill a team need by grooming Alyssa Healy and other hurdlers.
Smith stated, “This team has made a huge impact on my life. I know that I’ll always have people that will support me in everything I do, and I wanted to pass that on to the younger girls. I know it is our time to move on, but I also know that if there was any way for me to help the future of the team, I would do it. I love them all so much and I want nothing but the best for them as they all continue to grow into the best runners, jumpers, throwers, and people they could possibly be. I absolutely love being able to help the future of the team, and want to have an impact on them in the years to come.”
Collins, who just finished his 22nd year, is part of a coaching staff that trains both the girls and boys programs at GHS. Mark Alexander, Bob Gemske, Tom Cieslowski, Brain Gaudreau, and Sara Heredia round out a knowledgeable staff, each specializing in different areas of running, jumping, and throwing.
The coaches, along with the perfect mixture of girls, are not only champions in 2021 but they also helped restore a sense of normalcy, joining spring’s other title teams as the first state champions since 2019.
“Although COVID restricted a lot of what we were allowed to do, we did not let it get in the way of our hard work and training,” stated Casey MacElhiney, “We pushed each other during every practice and race, even when having a normal season was questionable. I could not be more proud of everything my team has accomplished this year, or more thankful for everything they have allowed me to achieve this year.
Malz added, “It was extremely rewarding to have come back from the drought of competition and camaraderie of COVID to become state champions. It’s definitely a testament to the work ethic of the team. Ending my senior year like this especially after the absolute roller coaster it’s been for the past year felt amazing. I am so grateful to have had such a great finish with such great girls”
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Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin