GHS XC captains (l-r) Ava Gattinella, Annika Hurley, Sarah Ongley, and Kelley MacElhiney
GHS girls’ cross country won the Wickham Invitational last Saturday, besting second-place North Kingstown from Rhode Island (81-109) in the Large Varsity division.
Freshman Brooke Strauss was the Guardians top-finisher, placing third overall with a time of 19:06 (6:10 pace).
Head coach Brian Collins said that Strauss first caught his eye when she ran a great time at the annual summer Alumni Race at JB Williams Park prior to her entering the fifth grade.
Four years later, Strauss is setting the pace at GHS.
“She is a really humble young lady and she gets along with everybody,” Collins said of Strauss, who has already ran the program’s sixth fastest time at JB Williams Park, “She seems like she is enjoying it. That’s the main thing, you have to enjoy doing it.”
Junior Jackie Caron and sophomore Jackie Dudus, who finished placed 12th and 25th at Wickham, are also new to the program after choosing cross country over soccer.
“We’ve lost a lot of girls in the past to soccer, swimming, field hockey, and other sports. But for some of these girls, they realized that this is their better sport,” stated Collins.
Captaining the team for Collins are Sarah Ongley, Annika Hurley, Kelley MacElhiney, and Ava Gattinella.
Gattinella, a sophomore, is already one of the team’s fastest runners. She finished with the team’s third fastest time (19:52) at Wickham, placing 14th overall.
“All the hard work we’ve been doing is paying off,” Gattinella said of the team’s success this fall, “I wanted to help the new people adjust because I was a new person last year and I felt like I could help them out to be comfortable and have fun on the team.”
Collins said all his captains have embraced the role, earning respect through their dedication to improve, “ Someone like Sarah Ongley has progressed night and day from the beginning of her freshman year until now. She’s improved tremendously.”
Hurley and Ongley, both seniors, are veteran voices after navigating through the COVID-restrictions last fall.
At Wickham, the pair of seniors led the way for the JV squad. Hurley finished second (21:52) and Ongley third (22:03) as the team won the bracket, miles ahead of runner-up Greenwich.
Hurley is excited that this group gets a chance to compete beyond the regular season, “We have a really young team this year and some of the girls have never really had a normal season, so the younger girls will be able to see how great the postseason is and we get to experience that together. Personally I have a lot of gratitude for having a normal year. A lot of our hard work through the winter, and through the spring, is really culminating right now into a really good cross country season.”
Ongley added, “Given that last year wasn’t a normal year, I was really hoping to make this year as successful as we can I put a lot of work in over the summer to help the team and hopefully have some success myself.”
MacElhiney, a junior, had a great mentor in her older sister Casey MacElhiney, who graduated after starring on the cross country trails last fall.
“I was trying to follow in her footsteps in the beginning, but now I finally feel like I can do my own thing. I feel a lot more confident about my running now.”
All four captains were part of the school’s outdoor track & field team that won the Class L state championship in June. Coach Collins was recently named the Coaches Associations’ 2021 Girls Track & Field Coach of the Year for last spring’s accomplishments.
Collins gave credit to the people around him, “I’m very fortunate to work with some very dedicated and talented girls, along with some outstanding coaches. It’s a team award.”
Prior to the Wickham Invite, the team traveled to Vermont for the Wood Run Trail in Thetford, finishing 2nd overall despite not having the services of Strauss for the meet. Caron finished 8th out of 599 runners.
“It was good competition, a lot of these girls haven’t seen competition from out of state,” said Collins, “It says a lot about the character of these girls and it also boosts their confidence. They’ve done well in our meets, but a meet like that is going to be very big for them, going against some of the top teams in New England.”
MacElhiney said that the out-of-state trips bring the team closer together, “It’s really fun, the experience of going places with your team and making those memories. We’re like a family.”
The invite in Vermont and the win at Wickham are great measuring sticks for the upcoming postseason tournaments.
The Conference Finals, Class Championship, and State Open will all be held at Wickham Park in Manchester.
“Wickham will be a good show of all the hard work we’ve put in throughout the season,” Ongley said prior to the invite, “It will be good to see how we compared against the other teams in the state.”
Collins and assistant coach Brian Gaudreau both like how the team is running with the postseason rapidly approaching.
“They’re young, but the good part is that they've grow together and they have success together, and hopefully they can build off that," stated Collins.
Hurley added, “Our team has always been really close. I think it’s a testament to what our team is. My best friends are from every single grade because of cross country and that’s always been something about our team that is unique. In races we can be super competitive but at the end of the day we’re really good friends.”
The Guardians competed in Vermont, pictured with coach Gaudreau
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin