Adjustments lead Wilbur Cross’ Omelchenko siblings to New England Cross Country meet

The 2021 cross country season has been a learning experience for Wilbur Cross senior Nikita Omelchenko and his sister Anna Omelchenko, a Wilbur Cross sophomore.

Adjustments in Anna Omelchenko’s training and Nikita Omelchenko’s running style have led to a rarity and special moment for the Governors — the first time a brother and sister from the school have both qualified for the New England Boys and Girls Cross Country championships.

The 86th annual New England Cross Country championships will be held Saturday at Thetford Academy in Thetford, Vermont with the boys race at 11:30 a.m. and the girls race at 12:15. Nikita is the second Wilbur Cross boy to advance to the New England championships and Anna is the first girl.

“I knew as a whole coming into the season our boys and girls were poised to do well because I have dedicated kids,” Wilbur Cross coach Travis Gale said. “Both Nikita and Anna getting to the New England meet wasn’t expected.

“But we had some successes along the way that made me think it was possible.”

Gale said Nikita, who has committed to run at UConn, came off a strong outdoor season that elevated his cross country prowess, He also had a good summer of training.

“Anna being young, we discussed goals coming into the season including times to go for,” Gale said. “In midseason, while running some races she felt some discomfort. It wasn’t an injury, just something we had to fix. We adjusted her training, the discomfort went away and it helped her improve.

“As the season went on, with the inner desire they had, I believed getting to the New England championships was within reach.”

Nikita Omelchenko was born in the Ukraine and moved to New Haven when he was 2. Anna was born in New Haven. Both gravitated to running cross country and track because they thought it was fun. They also enjoyed the satisfaction of reaching their finishing times they set as goals.

“I’m going into the New England meet with the goal of having fun,” Nikita Omelchenko said. He played soccer for Wilbur Cross as a freshman but since his sophomore year has focused on running. “Knowing my sister can join me and compete makes being there even better.

“We are individuals athletically. When I run, it’s like meditation for me. We usually train alone, and we focus on our own thing when we prepare and run our races. But that’s a good thing because I want her to pave her own path.”

Nikita made an adjustment in his running style after the SCC meet that paid off. Usually, he would run as fast as he could early in his races. At the SCC meet the running style tired him out and he didn’t finish the race. By running slower early on and saving energy for a strong finish, he ended up fifth at the CIAC Class LL meet in 16:46 and was eighth at the State Open (16:05).

Gale said Anna Omelchenko’s strength as a runner is her positivity.

“Anna never looks at anything as being tough,” Gale said. “And she is focused. Before every race, she goes off to the side to be by herself, thinks about the race and gets herself mentally ready.”

At the SCC meet she was second in 19:19, at Class LL when running at Wickham Park for the first time, she was 10th in 20:09 and at the State Open she was 17th in 19:32.

“Having my brother with me at the New England meet is special,” Anna Omelchenko said. “But this whole year has been a learning experience and that is what the New England meet is for me. I don’t think about where I will place. My focus is just becoming strong at the end of my races.

“What I like about running is it gives you time to think and time to make adjustments as you run.”

Gale said the top 25 finishers are named All-New England, and at the risk of putting more pressure on them, said Nikita and Anna have the potential to get there.

“I’ve been blessed with a great program with 21 girls and 19 boys who do the work and persevere,” Gale said. “Anna and Nikita have done the work and their perseverance is shown in the success that got them at the New England meet.”