Glastonbury High School cross-country standout Brooke Strauss won the State Open on Nov. 4 as the Guardians won the event at Wickham Park by 66 points.
Not even an ankle injury could prevent Glastonbury High School sophomore Brooke Strauss from crossing the finish line first.
Strauss missed nearly six weeks of competition before returning in time to win the State Open, running a time of 19:05 to hold off runner-up Kathryn Marchand of Trumbull by six seconds at Wickham Park on Nov. 4.
“My goal going into it was to get top-five. I got really lucky on that day and had a great opportunity,” said Strauss, who took her first lead heading into the last meter of the race.
“I just found myself in front and then started to pick it up right after I passed to try and get some distance between me and second. I was able to be consistent,” recalled Strauss.
After nursing a right ankle injury for a better part of the second half of the season, Strauss returned to competition prior to the Class LL meet on Oct. 29 where she would finish seven overall.
Less than a week later, Strauss was crossed the finish line as a state champion.
“In my heart I knew she would have an opportunity, but realistically I knew it was going to be really difficult,” GHS head coach Brian Collins said. “If any top runner in the state misses a month and a half it is going to be very difficult to compete with the other top runners. Brooke is just one of those athletes that is able to do that, but it is very, very rare.”
Strauss said she was disappointed with her performance at the class meet where she finished 16 seconds behind Marchand, the race’s winner.
Prior to the State Open, the speedy sophomore changed up her strategy, which ultimately paved the way to victory.
“I was focusing on not trying to match every single move that was made and relaxed more during the first half of the race to put myself in a position where I could have a chance at the end,” recalled Strauss. “The last race I started burning out before I had a chance to try and kick at the end.”
Strauss’ win highlighted a thoroughly dominant performance from the Guardians, who defeated second place New Milford by 66 overall points.
Collins said he did not anticipate the margin of victory over New Milford, the defending State Open champions.
“We have a ton of respect for them,” Collins said about the Green Wave running program. “They are great kids and well-coached.”
The win was redemption for last year when GHS finished second overall at the 2021 State Open, placing 30 points behind New Milford.
This fall was a completely different story as the Guardians had all seven runners place in the top-60 out of the 176 runners that completed, finishing 66 points ahead of the Green Wave.
Kelley MacElhiney was the second GHS runner to cross the finish line, placing 17th overall with a time of 19:56.
Lila Garbett (20th / 19:59), Jackie Dudus (21st / 20:01), Ava Gattinella (31st / 20:39), Lucy Bergin (37th / 20:47), and Mikayla Nedder (60th / 20:47) rounded out the GHS runners.
Garbett, a sophomore, went from being a junior varsity runner a season ago to earning All-State this fall after placing 6th at the Class LL finals.
“Last year I got to watch [the other runners] race and it was incredible, but this year I’m getting to experience what they experienced,” said Garbett. “I’m running on the same course that they tread.”
Collins said Garbett “far exceeded expectations” this season, dropping nearly three minutes off her 5k time from a year ago.
“She did the training over the summer and she was motivated,” added Collins. “She has had a great season.”
MacElhiney, Bergin, and Nedder —all seniors—were running at Wickham Park for the final time.
Dudus, a junior, said it was emotional running with the departing seniors for the final time at Wickham, adding “It’s sad to think that next year we won’t have some of our best runners who made our team so successful.
It was the program’s first State Open title since 2017. For the seniors, the championship was the ultimate curtain call.
“It was bitter sweet because it was our last time running there all together, but I have really enjoyed being a part of this program and watching everyone grow and being a part of the growth as well,” said Nedder. “It’s fun to be together and enjoy our wins together as a team.”
Bergin added, “This season has definitely been my favorite because it’s given me the opportunity to lead the younger people. It’s nice that our hard work paid off.”
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin