Shelton earns B Division cross country title

Christian Mabel and Andrew Cole captained Shelton to an 8-0 regular season record.

Christian Mabel and Andrew Cole captained Shelton to an 8-0 regular season record.

Shelton High Athletics / Contributed photo

From the unknown fate of even having a season to being crowned Southern Connecticut Conference B Division champions, coach Mike Gambardella’s Shelton boys’ cross country team put together a memorable campaign.

Shelton placed five runners in the top 10 to outdistance Amity for the Class B crown at the divisional meet at East Shore Park in New Haven.

“It was a nice surprise,” said Gambardella, who was named SCC B Division Coach of the Year. “I wasn’t sure exactly how competitive we could be because we lost some good seniors to graduation. The kids worked hard in the off season, even with the COVID-19 stuff going on and it paid off.”

Will Rodrigues finished third in a time of 17:51 on the 5K (3.1 mile) course. Sophomore Jayden Opper finished 6th in 18:08, with junior Jeremy Aprea running 18:09 for 7th, senior Andrew Cole 18:14 for 9th and sophomore Luke Pacheco 18:30 for 10th. Rodrigues, Opper and Aprea earned All-Division honors.

“Most of the varsity guys hit their best times at the championship meet,” said Gambardella. “I would say 5 of the top 8 had their best times when it really counted.”

Each division held their own race (50 runners) to meet Covid-19 requirements on social distancing and avoiding gathering of large groups. The results were then merged to crown an overall league champion.

Shelton was fifth overall behind SCC champion Xavier, Guilford, Daniel Hand and Cheshire.

Rodrigues, a junior, placed 19th in the merged times between the 4 divisions to earn second-team All-SCC.

“Will was good last year as a sophomore and he did all the right things in the offseason to become our No. 1 runner,” Gambardella said. “I wasn’t too surprised. Will had a lot of talent and as long as he was healthy in the offseason, I knew he would be okay.”

Gambardella didn’t know what to expect coming into the season and credits team captains Andrew Cole and Christian Magel for leading the Gaels to an 8-0 regular-season mark.

“They stepped right in from day one,” he said. “Even with all the uncertainty or if we were even going to have a season, our captains took the bull by the horns and did a great job getting kids to work out. Because of the restrictions they did it in small numbers but made it work.”

That preparation was no accident, according to Rodrigues who will captain next year’s team with Jeremy Aprea.

“Andrew and Christian and I made it clear in the summer that a lot of varsity guys had left,” he said. “If the younger guys wanted to step up into those varsity positions, we were going to have to work for that. Many of them answered that call and conditioned themselves. It was a good message to get across to the guys.”

Shelton brought a can-do attitude every day, noted Gambardella, who called his team a resilient bunch of kids that adapted well to everything (wearing masks, lack of fans).

The Gaels graduate Cole and Magel.

“Next year we should be in better shape (coming in),” Gambardella said. “We had a good freshman group (in 2019) and most of them came back this season and were competitive as sophomores.

“I’m hoping, nothing is guaranteed, but I’m hoping that if they do the same thing that this team did as far as getting ready, we should have a good team next year as well.”

At the SCC B Division meet, sophomore Jackson Jones was 12th in 18:32, followed by sophomore Harrison Garrett (18:45 good for 15th), junior Joe Giovannini (19:20), sophomore Benjamin DeMartino (19:25) and sophomore Christopher Carroll (20:05).

Team members are Jeremy Aprea, Christopher Carroll, Joe Ciambriello, Andrew Cole, Matthew Darak, Ben DeMartino, Harrison Garrett, Joe Giovannini, Josh Llano, Jackson Joners, Jason Loh, Christiam Magel, Jeremie Moretti, Mattieu Moretti, Jayden Opper, Luke Pacheco, Paul Pavliouk, William Rodrigues, Joe Schiappa, Clay Targowski and Gabriel Zamani.

Coach of year

“It was truly an honor to be recognized by my peers as coach of the year,” Gambardella said. “The team made the award possible through their hard work and perseverance.”

Running with restrictions

“All the restrictions were kind of fluid this year,” Gambardella said. “As long as you were under 50 kids per race teams didn’t have to stagger the starts. For the dual-meet season, it didn’t come into play at all. We practiced social distancing before each meet. When stretching everyone had a mask on. When we did line up at the starting line, we had it well organized. We told the runners the meet was going to start in two minutes and different teams would line up for like 10 seconds and the gun would go off.”

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