The GHS girls 4x800 relay team (l-r) Kylie Hilliard, Ava Gattinella, Annika Paluska, and Brooke Strauss won the New England Championships in Boston on March 5.
The list of accomplishments for the Glastonbury High School girls’ track and field program is ever-growing. Just when you think the season is over, the hits keep coming.
The Guardians, who won the Central Connecticut Conference (CCC) and Class LL championships as a team, added one more piece of hardware to the trophy case when the 4x800 relay team surprised even themselves by winning the New England Championships in Boston on March 5.
Annika Paluska, Kylie Hilliard, Ava Gattinella, and Brooke Strauss ran a season-best 9:29.14 to hold off a field of schools and runners from Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Maine.
“It’s fun to watch them in practice and see them get this end result,” said GHS running coach Brian Gaudreau. “They worked hard.”
Even more impressive is that it’s a young group, featuring three underclassmen.
Hilliard, a senior, is the team’s veteran and bookend her high school indoor track career with trips to Boston.
“It was great for me personally because my freshmen year I was able to go to New Englands,” said Hilliard. “I didn’t expect to go back. It was nice returning and getting the beginning and end.”
Paluska, a sophomore, ran lead for the relay team.
“I was excited finishing up the first leg. I was completely and utterly shocked when we were in first. It was a cool feeling,” said Paluska, “It’s always nice when you’re running that you are not doing it alone. You have the entire team behind you and you’re running it as one.”
Hilliard and Gattinella maintained the team’s lightning pace before Strauss, the relay’s anchor, easily erased a deficit as the team finished ahead of runner-up Brookline High School of Massachusetts by nearly a full second.
“I saw the people who were in front of me and I knew I had four laps to try and get in front. It’s fun to chase people down,” said Strauss, a freshman.
Gattinella, a sophomore, said winning as a relay team is extra special, adding, “When we found out we won we were hugging each other and didn’t stop smiling for an hour after. It felt great when everyone was taking our pictures and we got to stand on the podium.”
The Guardians entered the regional tournament as the seventh-seed based on best times during the state competition.
Despite the seeding, the relay team was calm, cool, and collected prior to the race. The four warmed up by taking a lap around the track at the Reggie Lewis Center and decided to cross paths as they ran, high-fiving each other along the way.
Paluska said the routine got her “motivated to run”, adding, “Going into it I thought we had a chance to place, but I was not expecting to place where we did. It was definitely a surprise. We were a little confused at the end, we didn’t think we won. We were all in shock.”
Both the first-place finish and the weekend long trip were memorable, especially for Hilliard.
Hilliard referred to the trip as “last time; best time”, adding, “It was nice to be with my friends and accomplish what we did as a team. I really enjoyed it because I knew it was going to be my last time.”
It was the latest in a string of postseason accomplishments for the GHS relay teams, who also took home a title in the 1600 Sprint Medley at the State Open.
At the New England Championships, the Guardians 4x200 relay—Hannah Caiola, Riley Carroll, Meghan Smith, and Alayna Taylor— also competed, finishing 13th overall with a time of 1:49.64.
Because of the first-place finish, the 4x8 team advanced to The New Balance Nationals in New York and won the Rising Stars division on March 12.
Strauss ended her indoor track season after the New England Championships and was the only one of the four that was unable to make the trip to the Big Apple.
Jackie Dudus replaced Strauss and Gattinella became the anchor as the team easily won the event inside The Armory in NYC, finishing with a time of 9:30.61, over a full second faster than runner-up Hilliard Davidson High School from Ohio.
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Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin