Will Rodrigues sets the pace for Shelton

Will Rodrigues placed third at the Southern Connecticut Conference B Division championship meet.

Will Rodrigues placed third at the Southern Connecticut Conference B Division championship meet.

Shelton High Athletics / Contributed photo

Shelton’s Will Rodrigues found a way to turn the summer of COVID-19 into a breakout season as a cross country runner for coach Mike Gambardella’s Gaels.

“Our summer was interesting because of COVID, but as a team we had a group chat, got together at the high school and had fun with it,” said Rodrigues, a junior who placed third at the Southern Connecticut Conference B Division championship meet to lead his team to the title.

“We ran in a group safely. Before regular practice began, we added some tempo and intervals on the track which I think helped all of us get in condition for the season. Those who were at the summer runs really improved and ended up being the varsity guys this year.”

According to Rodrigues, co-captains Andrew Cole and Christian Magel were key to the Gaels unbeaten 8-0 dual-meet season.

“They are close with all the guys on the team and good leaders,” Rodrigues said of the teams only seniors. “This season especially, the captains were approachable and there was no differentiating between the freshmen and the seniors.”

Rodrigues admitted there were positives and negatives of running during the pandemic.

“I did like the aspect of not having as many runners at the beginning, because it is a hectic start in the first two minutes with everyone funneling on to the course,” Rodrigues said.

“The biggest downfall was that we lacked some of the better runners from other divisions to help pace us. We had great runners in our division, but in a championship meet more people in my pack to help me and for a lot of other runners as well.”

Rodrigues best time as a sophomore came at the Class LL state meet where he ran a 17:52 to place 79th at Wickham Park in Manchester. His personal best of 17:47 came this season in a home meet.

Rodrigues joined the team as a freshman.

“It has been absolutely amazing,” he said. “There is such a great group of guys on our team. I couldn’t speak more highly of it. Coach Gambardella is truly an awesome coach. Kathleen Higgins, a senior, is team manager. She’s stepped in wherever she is needed, handling times, getting our splits. She is so helpful. We have a great group and we are comfortable with each other.

“Many people don’t see cross country as a team sport, but so much of it is team oriented. It is not an easy sport. Teammates are always there for each other, even on the lousy days.”

william.bloxsom@hearstmediact.com Twitter: @blox354