Griswold’s Brehler captures state Class SS title

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Griswold - posted Mon., Nov. 21, 2011
Alyssa Brehler ended her cross-country season at Griswold High School with a 12th-place finish at the New England championships. Photo courtesy of Patrick Bendzick and - Contributed Photo

Alyssa Brehler played all kinds of sports when she was younger – soccer, softball, basketball. But when she hit the track for the first time in seventh grade, something magical happened.

Griswold High School cross-country coach Mike Flynn noticed it right away. “She had no idea what she was doing, but she was running awfully fast,” he recalled. He knew Brehler had the “elite talent” that makes champions.

Brehler proved Flynn right this cross-country season, capturing a state Class SS championship, an All-State title and a 12th place finish at the New England championships. Not bad for a sophomore. At the New Englands, she was the first sophomore and the first Connecticut runner to cross the finish line, in a pack of more than 250 runners.

It was a satisfying way to end the season, especially after Brehler’s bad day at this year’s Eastern Connecticut Conference championship. She woke up that morning feeling so sick that if it hadn’t been for the ECCs, “I wouldn’t even have gone to school,” she said. “I was sick all day in school but I raced, and I ended up passing out [on the course] and not being able to finish the race at all.”

Brehler lost that heartbreaker to Plainfield’s Kerri Ruffo, one of the five or so star runners jockeying for the top spot in the ECCs. “[She] and [I] have been like rivals since eighth grade,” Brehler said of Ruffo. “We raced in the Junior Olympics together.” Brehler bested Ruffo in their first high school meet last year – a victory she recalled with a smile.

The pre-Halloween snowstorm bought Brehler some extra time to get back on her feet and build up for the state championships, which were postponed to Nov. 8, three weeks after the ECCs. Because of snowstorm-related scheduling issues, the state class times were integrated into the State Open results, and Brehler’s time was fast enough to qualify her to run the New Englands. “In the state race I didn’t have anybody pushing me. I was on my own,” Brehler said.

Flynn said he spent Brehler’s freshman year on the team holding her back a bit, to “teach her about the tactics of racing and to not overwhelm her,” he said. “I’ve preached to her from day one that this is a four-year plan and it’s not about instant success, and she bought in.”

This year, the coach upped the ante. “The leap in fitness was pretty staggering,” he said. “We set her goals to win a state championship and be All-New England, and she did both. Alyssa works incredibly hard and does all the core workouts, stretching and preparation that [are] needed to be great.”

While Brehler spent last winter playing basketball, this year she’ll run all three seasons. Last spring she was part of Griswold’s champion 4 x 800 relay team, also running the mile relay and the 800-meter, mile and two-mile individual races. She expects to continue doing distance running on the indoor track this winter, starting just after Thanksgiving.

Flynn said that Brehler and her teammates have fed each other’s success. “She loves the team and she truly believes in the team concept of cross-country over the individual,” he said. “They were laughing, happy and positive each and every day, which is not always easy for distance runners.”

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