2001 USATF/CT Men's Open Team Wrap-up
As early March of 2001 approached, the prospects for the Mohegan Striders Men's Open Team looked ominous. No matter where you turned, bad omens appeared on the horizon that seemed to indicate an end to the Strider's long run of statewide racing prominence. Still reeling from the loss of longtime racing coordinator and spiritual leader Sean Delaney, the team faced a number of pressing questions that needed answers as they approached the first Grand Prix event, the late March indoor track meet at Yale.
Perennial state runner of the year, Steve Swift, would not be running for the Striders this year as he pursued training on a national level. Strider stalwart Ed Zubritsky had announced his intention to take a hiatus from the racing circuit to spend more time with his sports minded family. An already thin racing team looked even thinner to the point of wondering whether the requisite number of 5 participants would be possible at many races. Couple these cold, hard facts with the knowledge of the resurgence of rival teams like the Hartford Track Club and the continuing aggressive recruiting efforts of last year's circuit champs, Athlete's Foot/Hi-tek, and you have an outlook as blustery and forboding as the late March weather.
Enter 'The Youngbloods', a group of young, focused, team oriented, hungry runners that burst onto the Connecticut racing scene at the indoor track meet and dedicated themselves to the long-odds goal of making the Mohegan Striders Men's Open Team, once again, the preeminent racing team in the state. Chad Johnson, Steve Herrera, and Chadwick Brown, energized the Strider team, and, along with huge contributions from long-time team member Dave Swift and a host of other role players, proved to be the key that provided the Striders with a most unexpected and most satisfying Grand Prix Circuit overall Men's Open Championship for 2001.
The indoor track meet provided a preview of what was to be the pattern of Strider strength throughout the year with strong performances by Herrera and Brown bolstered by point winning efforts by Ed Root, Pat Swift, Greg Swift, Chris Downe, and Bob Davenport. These efforts culminated in top team honors for the Strider crew and provided a rush of adrenalin that carried the Striders to 3 consecutive first place finishes in the next three circuit races, the 5K, 4 Mile, and 10 Mile championships. Throughout this three race blitz, the blazing performances of Chad Johnson, Steve Herrera, Chadwick Brown, and Dave Swift were augmented by key, team rounding finishes by Bob Davenport, Tim Kane, and old stand-by Tim Smith producing an irresistible combination of strength and depth that led to a bulging ten point lead over rival Athlete's Foot/Hi-tek after 4 of 8 circuit events.
The rest of the Grand Prix races were a continued litany of strong running in the front of the pack and valuable contributions from numerous Striders to produce just the amount of depth needed for a strong finish to the year. At the 10K, on a goat path of a championship course, Herrera, Johnson, and Brown continued their torrid early season pace while Strider VP Mike Fusaro, and the omnipresent Bob Davenport provided the depth to produce a third place showing behind the resurgent Athlete's Foot and the dangerous Hartford Tack Club. The 3K track event in West Hartford showcased Strider pack running at its best as Johnson, Swift, Herrera, Brown, and Davenport finished third, fourth, fifth, seventh, and tenth respectively to dominate the field and take a decisive race victory.
New Haven proved to be an even greater challenge with a strong, deep field of competition facing the Striders and a potentially devastating injury. Chad Johnson was the first Connecticut finisher in this world-class event with a strong, dominating performance. Until the last mile of the race, Steve Herrera within hailing distance of Chad delivering his usual strong performance when a sudden foot pain slowed him to a walk. As a number of people passed, including teammate Chadwick Brown, Herrera walked through the finish on a stress-fractured foot to take third place team honors behind Johnson and Brown. Augmenting this gritty performance, masters runner John Tolbert and Strider Treasurer Don Sikorski delivered fourth and fifth place team finishes that helped propel the Striders to a second place team finish behind the Athlete's Foot/Hi-tekkers. With a nine point lead entering the final race of the circuit, the Old Saybrook 5 mile, the Striders were in the enviable position of a nearly insurmountable lead on the road to the overall title.
As they had all year, the Striders put together a strong effort in Old Saybrook as Chad Johnson and Chadwick Brown ran strong races off the front of the pack while master Jon Kornacki, Mike Fusaro, and Bob Davenport provided the needed depth to rack up a third place finish and a six point series victory over Athlete's Foot/Hi-tek. This tried and true formula of strong front running and just enough depth provided for the winning combination throughout 2001 leading to an unexpected and deeply satisfying championship end to a season that started out with such a dark and gloomy outlook.
The individual final standings of the 2001 season reveal a sea of Strider
red at the top of the leader board with 'The Youngbloods', Chad Johnson,
Steve Herrera, and Chadwick Brown finished second, third, and fourth
respectively behind the Hartford Track Club's Chris Chisholm. Close
behind those three with the superb performance he seems to deliver year
in and year out, Dave Swift finished sixth in the individual standings.
To all who contributed to this year of unbroken excellence, congratulations
on a job well done and let's look forward to 2002!