Darien's Lacy sets New England Championships record in long jump

Of its 29 sports, perhaps none has brought more national attention to the FCIAC this season than track and field.

That was never more evident than during the past few weeks, highlighted on June 10, when Staples' Henry Wynne and Hannah DeBalsi, Ridgefield's Ellie Gravitte and Darien's Catherine Lacy recorded wins at the New England Championships.

Wynne -- who went on to win the mile at the national high school championships -- DeBalsi and Gravitte are ranked in the top 10 in the country in their events, while Lacy set a meet record in the long jump.

Five other athletes from the league had top-three finishes, including two from Westhill: Billy Thibault, who was second in the pole vault, and Claire Howlett, who finished third in the 1,600.

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"Every year blends into the next one, but this was a really good year," said Laddie Lawrence, the coach at Staples for the past 45 years.

When asked if he could recall the FCIAC experiencing this much success in one season, Lawrence said, "We probably have come close. We tend to be one of the better track leagues in New England. It may have happened."

Wynne, a senior who is headed to Virginia, closed out his career by winning the mile in 4:07.84 at the New Balance Boys & Girls Outdoor Track National Championships in Greensboro, N.C. last weekend. DeBalsi, who shaved nearly nine seconds off the New England mark in the 3,200, was even more impressive at Nationals. DeBalsi's third-place time of 10:16.20 in the two-mile shattered the Connecticut girls state record of 10:41.74 set in 1999. DeBalsi also crushed the National freshman record of 10:19.0 set in 1976.

Gravitte, a senior headed to Brown, shattered the New England mark at the FCIAC championships with a throw of 152-7, before besting that with a heave of 138-6 at Nationals, good enough for sixth.

Tyson Kaczmarek, the boys coach at Darien for the past decade, said having runners as uniquely talented as Wynne and DeBalsi, at the same time and at the same school, is just shy of the odds of purchasing a winning lottery ticket.

"Connecticut and the FCIAC always has kids," Kaczmarek said. "Henry is probably the best runner I've seen in 10 years for sure. Not just in the state. He's that good. That's unique. I've never seen him out-kicked in a race, seen him lose in the last 100 meters. Hannah, what she's done is unreal. There's just a lot going on in New England right now, especially in Connecticut, which is cool."

DeBalsi, like a lot of distance runners, first got introduced to the sport at the middle school level.

"I knew I was faster than some of the other girls in the club," DeBalsi said. "I wasn't expecting any of this. My coaches, I wouldn't have done this without them. Between the workouts, and what they teach me about running. Our track program is pretty good."

Track, unlike other sports, operates in a parallel universe. There are a number of students that get involved to stay in shape for another sport -- that was how Gravitte got her start. Others develop a quick love and make it their primary sport. Many runners are also part of their school's cross country teams and participate in all three sports seasons.

"One of the things we get at Staples is a huge turnout for outdoor track," Lawrence said. "The numbers go down from indoor because of rugby, lacrosse, volleyball, baseball, tennis and golf. Some are all track. It has always been that way."

Kaczmarek said greater awareness of track has bred more challenges.

"There have been more recent standout performances in the FCIAC," Kaczmarek said. "Part of it is you can find how everyone else is doing right now online. If you want to win, you've got to know what the competition is like."

dave.ruden@scni.com; Twitter: @DaveRuden