Pinkerton cross country coach Mike Clark received a surprise email over the summer, one that has provided the Astros with an unexpected boost.

“I heard from Stephen’s (Connelly’s) father and he told me that they were moving back to Chester (from California) and that Stephen was going to run cross country,” said Clark. “I was excited to hear it.”

Connelly, a junior, had never run cross country before, either prior to moving from Chester after his seventh grade year or in California, but Clark had good reason to be excited.

For one thing, Connelly comes from a running family. His father, Patrick, was a standout in high school and later ran at Fordham University and his half-brother, Nico Sevilla, was a star at Pinkerton and now runs at the University of New Hampshire.

Plus, Clark learned that Connelly had enjoyed some success as a sophomore running track in California, recording a 4:32 in the 1,600 meters and a 1:58 in the 800. It was partly that success that nudged him toward cross country.

“I ran track simultaneously with soccer, which I had always played, and I found out that I liked running more,” said Connelly. “And it is kind of a family thing. I always looked up to Nico ... I would go to some of his meets when I was younger and I would go with my dad to some (road) races.

“I wasn’t sure how I’d do but I was pretty confident because of what I did in track.”

That confidence was well founded as Connelly quickly joined sophomore standout Luke Brennan to form a dynamic one-two punch for the Astros. He finished 13th at the Manchester Invitational, just two spots behind Brennan, and was fourth at the Nashua Invitational with a 5K time of 16:02.

“He’s exceeded all expectations,” said Clark. “He’s been right up there with Luke and he’s been a great teammate who has embraced the Long Red Line culture.”

For his part, Connelly couldn’t be happier with his decision to join the cross country ranks.

“It’s a really great family atmosphere and coach Clark has been great,” said Connelly. “He really amps up the energy and keeps us going.

“I didn’t have any specific expectations when I started but I want to break 16 (minutes for 5K) and just help the team win.”

That sounds good to Clark, who is happy that the Connelly-Brennan tandem will be with him another year.

“We have high hopes for this year but next year should be really something,” said Clark.

Strong No. 2 runners

There is nothing like a one-two punch to boost a team and the Stephen Connelly-Luke Brennan combination at Pinkerton is far from the only team that has a strong No. 2 runner.

Three boys teams that have particularly strong No. 2 runners are Methuen, with Freddy Coleman backing up Xavier Metivier, North Andover with Jett Stad complementing Jack Bicksler and Central Catholic, where Matt Giannasca has closed the gap with James Pothier.

Race of the year

Congratulations to Haverhill freshman Finleigh Simonds, who outkicked North Andover’s Leyla Kvaternik last week while also beating Courtney Dalke and Abby Mastromonaco. The North Andover trio will surely try to make amends when they square off at the MVC meet.    

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