FCIAC West title capped perfect season for Darien boys cross country

The fall season wasn’t just great for the Darien boys cross country team, it was simply perfect.

With Lucas Madariaga and Evan O’Rourke leading the way, the Blue Wave followed up its unbeaten dual meet season by capturing the FCIAC West Region championship last Wednesday in New Canaan’s Waveny Park.

Darien edged host New Canaan by a single point, 45-46, to claim the crown, with Westhill checking in third with 50 points

For Madariaga, the road to the championship began several months ago during the summer, when the Wave runners truly began to focus on the season ahead.

“We’ve put in so much work over the season so it’s really nice to see just how good our depth is, and get the fruits of our labor today,” Madariaga said. “Over the summer, every single one of us grinded hard and put in so much work. It just really paid off for every single one of us in the job we did this season.”

Madariaga, a senior, was the Blue Wave’s top runner, as he took third place in 17:00.3 on the 5,000-meter course. He finished one spot ahead of the junior O’Rourke, who was fourth in 17:07.6, and another junior, Luke Riordan, was seventh in 17:41.3.

“Our boys did very well,” Darien assistant coach Rachid Sofiane said. “It was a long season for us and we worked really hard. We exposed them to some new training strategies, but collectively, they came together through a lot of meets and worked hard and it showed throughout the season and today.”

Darien’s scoring also included senior Albert Carreno, who was 15th in 18:01.2, and junior Ryan Jones, who was 16th in 18:04.4.

Three more juniors followed, as Jake Smith was 17th in 18:05.3, Jack Walsh was 22nd in 25th in 18:38.2, and Kyle Bloomer was 25th in 19:09.6.

The FCIAC cross country championships certainly had a different look this year, as COVID safety measures led to regional divisions for the finals. Six varsity races were held — boys and girls events in all three divisions — and no spectators were allowed for an event which usually packs Waveny Park.

However, the course was the same, which made the time posted by Westhill senior Colin McLaughlin in the West race all the more impressive. McLaughlin won in 15:36.8, winning by more than a minute over New Canaan’s Luca Palamenti, who was second in 16:58.0.

Madariaga, who was third, didn’t meet his own expectations, but was happy with the way the Wave came through as a team.

“I personally did not do as well as I expected, but that’s where our depth shows,” Madariaga said. “Our guys in the back really reeled it in for us. We’ve all trained hard and it showed.”

Sofiane gave much credit to Madariaga for his leadership on the team.

“Lucas is a tremendous leader, a born leader,” Sofiane said. “His ability to cultivate the team camaraderie — he’s like an extension of the coaching staff. He’s very critical of himself, he wanted to do the best that he could do this season and the team really picked that up from him with the work ethic and consistency.

“He’s a great kid and he’s going to be very successful when he leaves Darien. He’s a great runner and Tyson and I have talked about it all the time: He’s going to make a great coach if he ever wanted to coach kids.”

Winning the West title was the icing on the cake of a big season for Darien, which was 5-0 during dual meets and debuted its new home course this season. It was the first time in 15 years that the Wave had been able to host meets.

The new course, which was funded by the Darien Athletic Foundation, was approved by the Board of Education two years ago and completed in time for training and competition this year.

The Wave opened its new home course with a victory over rival New Canaan in the season’s first meet, and won all three meets at DHS.

The course was a key part of the Blue Wave’s season as gave the runners a new sense of pride, and also was a great place to train before the schedule began.

“What really helped the Darien running community was the creation of the course (at DHS),” Sofiane said. “Tyson (Kaczmarek, Darien’s head coach) is a great coach - he’s like a mad scientist when it comes to workouts and the kids really love him. We had a long time with no competition, so the kids really had to work out together, race each other, and do some interesting things at practice.

“It really cultivated an awesome team environment. Practices were fun, so kids were invested in competing.”

david.stewart@hearstmediact.com; @dstewartsports