By BRIAN JENNINGS
They dashed through the woods, sprinted around the lake, leapt over bails of hay, and trudged their way through the mud. Instead of running a standard race, high school and middle school cross country teams gathered to run in teams of two or four athletes in the fifth annual Sloper Relays at Camp Sloper on Friday, Sept. 25.
Nine different divisions all started at the same starting line to the sound of the same gun, with each leg distancing at 1.5 miles. The meet has grown in the last two years, going from 400 to 900 athletes and 40 teams this year, but a new feature that was added to the course was a 100-foot mud pit, along with some hay bales for each leg.
“My thought after my first year as head coach was that if you’re going to make it a fun meet, let’s really make it a fun meet,” said Southington coach Dan Dachelet. “With that in mind, I began trying to figure out a way to add an optional mud pit and hay bale barriers. I was fortunate this year that Camp Sloper had just leveled their BMX course on the far side of their property. This became the perfect test grounds for adding this element to our race.
However, the idea of adding the mud pit didn’t come without complications.
“We honestly didn’t know what we were in for with the dry of a summer we had,” said Dachelet. “After tilling the mud pit for hours, it was still way too hard for us to add water. The Southington Fire Department, along with 4,000 gallons of water, was the perfect answer to our problems. Without their help, we would have likely had to abandon our idea of having the mud obstacle.”
Bristol Central tandem Roberto Luis-Fuentes and Matt Roy (33:54) were edged by Middletown’s Jalen Coleman and Stefano Mazzeo (33:51) for the fastest time overall and in the two-boys division, but they set the pace for a swarm of Bristol runners. Tyler L’Heureux and Sean Suiter (Bristol Central) were the only other Bristol relay to finish in the top 10, but Bristol runners did well in most races.
Central’s Hannah Jones and Matt Varnum (35:50) won the one boy-one girl division. Eastern’s quartet of Tommi Crowley, Jacob Kustra, Devon Plourde, and Calista Subocz (35:52) placed second in the four person co-ed division.
The relay-style event was designed as a break from the rigors of the dual meet and invitational seasons.
“Runners are often deluged with races twice a week, racing up to 10k per week,” said Dachelet. “As coaches, we have to find ways to lessen the racing load, and Sloper Relays is a perfect recipe for this.”