Top runners from Ridgefield, Danbury, Trumbull compete in ‘mini-FCIAC’ cross country championship preview

NEW CANAAN — Ridgefield’s Katherine Rector has had the look of a championship contender this fall, with victories in her first three dual meets.

Top runners seek out the best competition, and Rector was in fine company when she squared off against Danbury’s Stephanie Quieroz and Trumbull’s Kali Holden at New Canaan’s Waveny Park last Wednesday.

It was described by more than one coach as a “mini-FCIAC” championship.

“All season, we’re looking for these opportunities to really test ourselves, and with these dual meets it can sometimes be hard to reach our full potential,” said Rector, who won the 4K race. “So for this meet, I was really looking forward to competing against these incredible girls. I knew it was going to be a struggle and a fight to the end.”

Rector’s time of 14:28.30, put her 19 seconds ahead of Quieroz (14:47.52), with Holden (15:05.21) third.

All three runners are seniors and could be in the mix for top spots in the FCIAC championship race on Oct. 20, again at Waveny Park.

Having a chance to run at the site of the conference championship was a boon.

“I was really excited to run here,” Quieroz said. “The course was amazing. It wasn’t too hilly; it was perfect. This is my first year running cross country, so it was exciting to have other girls on my level and be able to push myself and run with them.”

“This is a great course,” Holden said. “I really like this course and it’s one of my favorite places to run and it’s good to see it before the FCIAC championship, which will also be with these girls. So I’m pretty excited for FCIACs and the rest of the season.”

The FCIAC meet doesn’t have a clear-cut favorite. Wilton’s Emily Mrakovic, Ludlowe’s Anna Keeley, and Darien’s Mairead Clas are just a few of the many runners who could finish at or near the top of the field.

For Rector, Quieroz and Holden, the fall has already been a series of victories.

All three won their first dual meet races, and Quieroz won the Winding Trails Invitational, a 5K race hosted by Farmington.

Holden had a sixth-place finish at the Wilton Invitational, when she was also the top runner from the FCIAC.

Last week’s quad meet offered a test not unlike an invitational or a championship.

“You can hit all your times in workouts and start feeling really good, but in a race you never know what’s going to happen,” Rector said. “Having someone right next to you, going through that same amount of pain, really tests that will and that toughness. Everything that you’ve worked for, here’s where it all matters.”

Cross country is new for Quieroz, who played soccer in the fall during her first three years with the Hatters. A distance runner with the track and field team, she was fifth in the 3,200-race at last spring’s FCIAC championships.

“I was in soccer and I want to run in college because I have a passion for running, so I wanted to try something new,” Quieroz said. “Cross country is definitely what I liked. It’s a lot of mileage. In the dual meets, I was just racing against time, so having someone to really push me (today) was amazing.”

Holden said she was hoping to start with a slower pace, but “that didn’t happen” as the first mile was fast.

“From there, I was thinking OK, just stick with these girls, they’re going to make you faster, so see what you can do,” Holden said.

Trumbull will run in the Manhattan College Invitational, and Danbury will compete in the Wickham Park Invitational, both on Saturday, with the conference final less than two weeks away.

This year’s full FCIAC championship will be the first in two years. Last fall, only division races were held, which, while competitive, failed to capture the same energy as in typical years.

Having the complete field back on both the conference and state level has the top runners thinking big.

“This year, it’s the real deal,” Holden said. “It’s back to normal for the most part. We are really excited for that.”

“I set some big goals last year and it was really tough not being able to capitalize on them,” Rector said. “So this year, I said I’m running for myself, I’m going to make it fun and I’m going to make it competitive. I’m just going to do everything I can.

“I’m really looking forward to this (FCIAC) competition because it’s the most competitive I’ve seen in a long time. It’s going to be a great race.”

david.stewart@hearstmediact.com; @dstewartsports