Over the last three years, Cheshire High School senior cross country and track runner Alexa Ciccone has set records and developed into one of the nation’s elite distance runners.
Ciccone has earned accolades on the high school level, but she has also shined against racers much older than her.
In the Faxon Law New Haven Road Race on Sept. 4, Ciccone came in as the top overall female 5K finisher for the second straight year.
“It was exciting,” stated Ciccone, who captains the Cheshire girls’ cross country team with seniors Mia Vientos and Katie Hall. “I like running in that race.”
After finishing in 18:36 last year, she lowered her time to 17:51.
“I had more competition than last year,” reflected Ciccone. “I could hear them coming up behind me at the finish.”
CHS girls’ cross country head coach Rob Schaefer said that Ciccone is his first runner to take first place on the female side of the 5K.
“I’m always so happy for athletes in and out of sports achieving their goals,” stated Schaefer. “Alexa is our GOAT at CHS. She is the Greatest of All Time.”
For Schaefer, seeing athletes run on Labor Day has become an annual tradition. He estimates that CHS girls’ cross country has participated in NHRR for 25 years.
“Part of my goal is to expose kids to new things,” said Schaefer. “Over the years, I ask the kids if they have run in a big road race. I think it is really cool for them to have this race be their first experience. We are also supporting the race.”
Vientos (20:14), sophomore Emily D’Souza (20:29), junior Eva Curran (21:05), freshman Sage Falcon (21:49), sophomore Ava Ciccone (21:58), and freshman Sarah Curran (22:19) followed Alexa Ciccone in Cheshire’s top-eight group.
Schaefer tells his runners to treat the event like a scrimmage.
“I put no pressure on them,” said Schaefer. “You can run as hard as you want and have a good experience.”
In reflection, he measures a race by effort over time.
“Every course is different in cross country,” stated Schaefer. “In all of our races except New Haven, I ask them how competitive they were. Did you compete against the course and yourself?”
Schaefer believes that NHRR helps bring his team closer together.
“Everything we do is a bonding experience,” said Schaefer. “There is nothing better than the kids supporting each other and competing.”
Along with Schaefer’s squad, the CHS boys’ cross country and field hockey teams have also been running in the 5K for years.
Boys’ x-c head coach Pam Gunneson has participated as a coach and a racer. In her 20s, she started running when NHRR was just a 20K event.
Gunneson has since moved into the 5K, so she can run in the same race as her athletes. This year, she finished in a time of 30:27.
For her Cheshire team, senior quad-captains Daniel D’Souza (20th, 16:48), Tyler Caron (32nd, 18:05), Jack Lengyel (33rd, 18:08), and Brian Krzanowski (44th, 18:41) cracked the top 50 in the 5K. Freshman Josh Lengyel and sophomore Domenic Martone also participated for the Rams.
“They ran well,” reflected Gunneson. “Daniel went under 17 minutes and that is awesome. Tyler and Jack ran together, which was great. Brian also had a great time for him.”
Gunneson likes how both Cheshire cross country teams attend NHRR. Before becoming a head coach, she assisted Schaefer with the girls’ program.
“It is nice that all of our meets are combined together,” stated Gunneson. “Schaefer gets most of his girls to go (to New Haven). I have it as an option for the boys. I love that we get to go and share the experience.”
Gunneson plans to run in a few races this fall, but she focuses more on track and field. Over the summer, she went to California to compete in the heptathlon of the Masters Outdoor Combined Events National Championships.
“I’ve competed in track and field for 50 years. It is good to see that you can continue to be involved in running by being active and safe,” explained Gunneson.
While their team doesn’t compete in races, Cheshire field hockey has additionally made NHRR into a pre-season tradition. This year, junior Sarah Goldstein had the team’s best time of 21:00.
“It is something we all do,” stated Riley Baldoni, a senior tri-captain with Ginny Curello and Caroline O’Dea. “We all have our field hockey pinnies on and our coaches and parents are there to watch.”
Players split into groups during the race.
“It is great to finish together,” said Baldoni. “I ran with some of the same girls as last year. It was fun to run with them.”
For many girls, time isn’t the focus of the day.
“I go out there and have fun,” stated Baldoni. “My goal is to finish the race and I’ve done that every time.”
The Rams feel that the race contributes to their team chemistry.
“As much as they don’t like running, it is great for them to share in it,” said Alana Pulling, who shares Cheshire field hockey head-coaching duties with Alyssa Stevens. “Following the race, they like checking out the food trucks and picking the best one. They also go to a picnic at a senior’s house afterwards.”
As a tri-captain, Baldoni enjoys organizing events for her squad.
“The team plays an important role in my life,” explained Baldoni. “I take pride in being a leader for them in school and life. I also love working with amazing coaches.”