Southern takes victory at Bruce Kirsh Cup as four Owls finish among the top 10

Matt Gad – Contributor

The men’s cross country team coasted to a first place finish at last weekend’s Bruce Kirsh Invitational, their first win of the year.

“I’ve been pretty impressed with everybody so far this season,” assistant cross country and track and field coach Brian Nill said. “The biggest thing we talked about was just staying on point and following the plan. We really haven’t had many issues this year at all.”

The team began the year second at the Adelphi Panther Invitational, third at the Division II Challenge and 13th at Paul Short Invitational.

In their victory at Bruce Kirsh, sophomore Chris Leabeau finished second overall, followed by fellow sophomore Terrell Patterson and junior Connor Shannahan. And also inside the top 10, freshman Jake Mattei took seventh place.

“It’s a confidence booster,” Shannahan said. “We went into the meet pretty relaxed. The idea was to tempo it, going close to racing it and everyone PR’d or came close. We all knew we were in really good shape.”

Redshirt senior Steven Cugini was 13th overall, sophomore Gavin Woodward, in his first race of the season, finished 17th overall and Dan Perusina, a junior, was 29th.

“It’s just a matter of getting used to all the new things and trying to do the best that you can,” Mattei said. “I’m definitely surprising myself and relying on the other guys to get me through the races and the workouts.”

The team will race again Sunday at the NE10 Championships and will then move on to regionals after that. They will need to finish within the top three places at the regional meet to qualify, as a team, for nationals, which will be Dec. 1 in Slippery Rock, Pa.

Currently, they are second in the United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association, or USTFCCCA – and in regional rankings and they received two votes towards the national poll.

“We didn’t even talk about [the ranking],” Nill said. “I’m not gonna talk about it at practice. Just seeing that on paper doesn’t do anything unless you actually get it done. Last year we were ranked fifth in the region and we finished way back.”

A lot of the reason for the high ranking the Owls have can be attributed to that performances they have gotten out of the younger runners.

Jon Warren, who finished 67th last meet, is one of two freshmen on the team this year, joining Mattei. The others are sophomores, starting with Lebeau, the team’s top runner right now, who only ran indoor his freshman season and was a high school soccer player.

“The two freshmen have done a great job so far this year,” Nill said. “They’ve just gotta stay healthy and locked in.”

Mattei comes out of an Amity program with a storied distance running history, having just been coached by former Owl Jon Faitsch. Warren joins the squad out of Naugatuck and Sacred Heart High School.

“We do place a lot of emphasis on [the conference meet] but the regional meet is what we’re really focused on,” Shannahan said. “At the end of the day you get accolades for doing well at conference but everyone goes there.”

He said that if the team does not finish in the top three at the regional meet they will have to hope for an at-large bid into nationals.

“We got a lot of points from doing all the smaller meets,” Mattei said. “If we beat another team in a different region that gives us a lot of points going in.”

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