Girls cross country preview: Tigers look to contend for post-season titles

Tess Pisanelli, of Ridgefield, finishes ninth in the CIAC Girls Cross Country State Open Championship at Wickham Park in Manchester on Nov. 1.

Tess Pisanelli, of Ridgefield, finishes ninth in the CIAC Girls Cross Country State Open Championship at Wickham Park in Manchester on Nov. 1.

Arnold Gold / Hearst Connecticut Media file photo

If the Ridgefield High girls cross country team regressed this season, it would be understandable: Gabby Viggiano, the reigning conference champion, has graduated, removing one of the state’s best runners from the starting lineup.

Then again, this is Ridgefield we are writing about.

Year in and year out, the Tigers are among the contenders for post-season titles ... and this season should be no exception.

“I’m excited,” said Ridgefield head coach John Goetz, whose team finished third at the FCIAC, Class LL and State Open meets last year. “We lost Gabby, who was obviously a great runner. But that was the only major graduation loss, and some of the younger runners have been impressive in practices.”

In senior captain Tess Pisanelli, Ridgefield has one of the state’s best competitors. Pisanelli was fourth at both the FCIAC championships and the Class LL meet and then finished ninth at the State Open. She was the Tigers’ top finisher at the Class LL championships, placing one spot ahead of Viggiano.

“Tess was All-FCIAC, All-State and All-New England last year,” said Goetz. “I feel that she is one of the top three runners in the league this season.”

Joining Pisanelli are three other runners who were also among Ridgefield’s top five in 2018: Seniors Elizabeth Jasminski and Katie Langis and junior Rory McGrath. Langis was 25th at FCIACs, 33rd in Class LL and 65th at the State Open last year; McGrath placed 28th at FCIACs, 37 in Class LL and 57th at the State Open; and Jasminski (a co-captain with Pisanelli) finished 21st at FCIACs, 53rd in Class LL and 87th at the State Open.

Also back is junior Samantha McLemore, who was the team’s seventh runner last season. She was 50th at FCIACs and 59th in Class LL.

While that’s a strong group of returnees, Ridgefield’s outlook improved significantly with the performance of several younger runners at the team’s time trials. The biggest surprise came from sophomore Katie Rector, a newcomer who was second to Pisanelli.

“She definitely is the real deal,” Goetz said about Rector, who played field hockey last year. “She has been running 40 miles per week for the last few months, and she has a real competitive nature.”

Goetz’s daughter, Cailin, a sophomore, finished sixth at the time trials, and three freshmen (Georgia Keller, Deirdre Flanagan and Regan McGrath) were also among the top 10. Flanagan recently moved to Ridgefield from Ireland.

“We are going to graduate some seniors after this year, so it is nice to have such a promising group of sophomores and freshmen,” said Goetz. “The future looks a lot better now.”

If Rector emerges as a second anchor atop the lineup with Pisanelli, the Tigers could challenge Danbury, Trumbull and Greenwich for conference and state titles. Danbury is the defending FCIAC, Class LL and State Open champion.

“Danbury should be the team to look for, but I think we can be right there,” said Goetz. “I feel pretty good about what we have this season.”

Notes: Ridgefield opens the season on Monday (Sept. 9) at home against Wilton, Stamford, and Fairfield Warde.