Unbeaten Ridgefield aims for post-season titles

Senior Tess Pisanelli (left) and sophomore Katie Rector have been the top-two runners for the unbeaten Ridgefield girls cross country team.

Senior Tess Pisanelli (left) and sophomore Katie Rector have been the top-two runners for the unbeaten Ridgefield girls cross country team.

H. John Voorhees III / Hearst Connecticut Media

Before the season started, Ridgefield girls cross country coach John Goetz told his runners that one of the team’s goals should be an undefeated dual-meet season.

“I knew it was going to be tough,” Goetz said, “but at the same time I thought we had a chance to go unbeaten.”

The Tigers checked that box last Monday, sweeping three opponents and improving their record to 15-0.

Based on that performance, Ridgefield was a slight favorite entering Tuesday’s FCIAC championship meet at Waveny Park in New Canaan. The Tigers lived up to the billing, scoring 70 points to beat runner-up Trumbull by 13 points and win the conference title (see story on this page) for the first time since 2016.

Adding this year’s victory, Ridgefield has now finished first at 11 of the last 17 FCIAC championship meets, including back-to-back championships in 2015 and 2016. Before that, the Tigers won five straight titles from 2003 through 2007 and three straight from 2011 through 2013.

Ridgefield placed third last year (behind Danbury and Greenwich) and graduated Gabby Viggiano, the individual conference champion.

“We had Tess [Pisanelli, fourth at last year’s FCIAC meet] returning, but we lost Gabby; some people probably thought we would take a step back this season,” Goetz said. “And that might have happened if Katie hadn’t joined the team.”

Goetz was referring to Katie Rector, a sophomore who decided to run cross country this fall after focusing on hockey and lacrosse as a freshman. Rector was runner-up to Pisanelli at the Tigers’ time trials and then placed second to Pisanelli at the first regular-season meet.

“She’s been a big help,” said Goetz about Rector, who had four top-three overall finishes in Ridgefield’s five regular-season meets. “Last year we had the duo of Tess and Gabby, and this year we have the duo of Tess and Katie. It’s made us a stronger team than we would have been without Katie.”

“My brother [Leo, a senior on the Ridgefield boys cross country team] started running in high school and I would go on training runs with him. But it was pretty difficult, so I didn’t think about running myself until last spring,” Rector said. “I began running with the girls in July at unofficial practices and they were really welcoming. They made me feel comfortable.”

“Having Katie has been great for the team and me personally,” said Pisanelli, a senior captain. “When Gabby graduated, I didn’t know if there would be anyone to train with me. But Katie is able to push me at practices and in races, and that makes me a better runner.”

“Tess is just so good,” Rector said. “My goal is always to stick as close as I can to her.”

Ridgefield has also gotten a boost from several other runners, including senior Elizabeth Jasminski and freshman Georgia Keller. Jasminski was third for the Tigers and fifth overall at last week’s final regular-season race, with Keller placing fourth on the team and seventh overall.

“Elizabeth has been running extremely well; she really hangs in there at the end of races” Goetz said. “Georgia Keller has also been improving; she is one of three really good freshmen, and I knew one of them would make a move as the season went on.”

Senior Katie Langis, juniors Sam McLemore and Rory McGrath, sophomore Cailin Goetz, and freshmen Regan McGrath and Deirdre Flanagan give Ridgefield a reservoir of talented runners.

That depth will be vital if Ridgefield is going to add more titles this fall.

“When I was a freshman — and we won FCIACs and Class LL and the State Open — one of the biggest things was that we stayed together. If you saw a Ridgefield teammate ahead of you then you tried to catch up,” Pisanelli said. “That’s the mindset we need to have in the post-season races this year.”