For the first time in more than two decades, the Greenwich boys cross country team will be represented by two runners at the ultra-competitive State Open Cross Country Championships.
Senior Zach Jelinek and sophomore Christian Zawislack each qualified to compete in the CIAC State Open Cross Country Championships at Wickham Park, after producing impressive finishes at Monday’s Class LL Championships – also at Wickham Park.
The Cardinals have seen one runner test his skills at the State Open in recent seasons, but not two, so Jelinek and Zawislack are making a bit of program history. Jelinek earned a spot in the State Open by finished 24th at the Class LL competition, posting a time of 17:42.
The meet was held Monday, after being postponed this past Saturday due to inclement weather.
“It was a real rough day to run with the mud and the conditions,” Greenwich coach Sean Astle said. “We ran a little bit later in the day, so the course was beat up, but we saw a lot of resiliency from our kids, especially ZJ and Christian, they qualified for the Open and really gutted it out. They had a little bit of a rough start, they had a lot of ground to cover and make up throughout the race, but they were able to chip away, so we were really proud of the effort.”
Jelinek has been the Cardinals’ top runner throughout the season.
“He’s been incredible all year,” Astle said of Jelinek. “He hasn’t lost many races this year, particularly with our duel meets. ZJ was 11th in FCIACs and made All-FCIAC. We continue to be really impressed by him.”
Zawislack qualified for the State Open by placing 28th at the Class LL meet in 17:47.
“It was a big deal to get there in the first place,” Zawislack said. “Going there was really nice. It was quite muddy though, so it was hard on the course. But once you got the hang of it, it didn’t feel like there was mud there at all. We all tried to run as hard as we could and we all finished.”
He enjoyed racing at Wickham Park – the site of the Class LL and State Open Championships for decades.
“I felt quite tired after the race,” Zawislack said. “It was my second time running at Wickham, I went to the Wickham invitational. It’s pretty hilly, but the trails are really nice. ZJ and I are just going to see how well we do.”
Said Astle: “He (Zawislack) is a real calm, cool guy, he has all the talent in the world. It’s been fun to watch ZJ work with Christian and show him the ropes. It’s nice to see the student teacher relationship there and it’s good for our program too.”
Also competing for Greenwich at the Class LL Championships were senior Quinn Collins (53rd place, 18:31), senior Robert Enslein (18:43), sophomore Aubrey Niederhoffer (19:29), freshman Chase Nizielski and junior Jack Briode (19:33).
Jelinek and Zawislack have to finish among the top-25 in order to qualify for the New England Championships. Jennifer St. Jean, a well-known, outstanding Masters runner, joined the Cardinals’ coaching staff this season.
St. Jean won the gold medal in the 1,500-meter event at the North and Central America and Caribbean Region of the World Masters Athletics Championships in Canada and in 2015, was the silver medalist at the World Masters Championships in the 1,500 in her age group (40-44). She began coaching at Greenwich this past spring with the school’s outdoor track and field team.
“I love the sport, this is fun,” St. Jean said. “To take young kids and watch them find out how fast they can be – there’s so much reward in that. It’s important to teach them work ethic and things they can take with them through the rest of their life.”
St. Jean is impressed with the improvement Greenwich’s athletes have shown.
“We have seen huge PRs (personal-records), like 30-40 seconds over their previous times on courses,” St. Jean said. “They’ve been running phenomenal.”