Griffin Mandirola Runs into the Record Books

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To say Griffin Mandirola has hit his stride would be both a pun and a tremendous understatement. A Suffield High School senior and son of Sheri and Paul Mandirola, Griffin is a record holding cross country/track runner with an athletic scholarship to UConn.

Photo by Sheri Mandirola
Griffin nearing the finish line at the New England regionals.

How he came to running is a somewhat improbable but serendipitous tale. Growing up in a family with two younger brothers – Connor, now a sophomore who plays AAU baseball and Parker, a 6th grader who plays baseball, basketball and does some cross country, Griffin played baseball, basketball and soccer. Baseball, however, was his favorite sport.

He really had never run until 6th grade when middle school teacher Matt Dobi started a running club. “All my friends were doing it and Mr. Dobi, who is now the high school vice principal, made it really fun,” relates Griffin. “There had to be about 80-90 kids in the club, and we were divided into four groups. The first two groups were the better runners and did the hard stuff while the rest of us were just kind of having fun participating.”

Griffin’s parents were surprised that he had joined the club because although he was a good baseball player, his father joked that the weakest part of his game was his lack of speed on the basepath. Although skeptical of this choice to run, his parents encouraged him to make sure he completed the course, with his mother assuring him that there was no shame in walking it as long as he finished.

For those who might not know, a cross country team (XC) is usually made up of seven runners. The top five runners are the scoring members and the remaining two have the job of displacing the scorers on the opposing teams. In middle school the course is two miles; in high school, it is 3.1 miles (5000 meters). The race is run on open-air courses over natural terrain such as hills, dirt, grass and concrete and in any kind of weather. It is usually a fall sport and the lowest score wins. Points are assessed on what place you finish so a perfect cross country team score would be 15 (1+2+3+4+5).

Photo by Johanne Presser
Griffin Mandirola holds a special trophy given to him to honor his Cross-Country successes.

Although Griffin started out in group three, at the first middle school meet in Windsor Locks, he finished 13th out of 80 boys and got moved up to group two.

Running in six subsequent meets, Griffin improved to the point that at the middle school state championships he finished 8th and was the 5th fastest finisher in 6th grade. Each year he progressed; in 7th grade he was 23rd in the state and in 8th grade he set a course record for Suffield Middle School.

At the high school level, freshman Griffin learned that there was more on the line than at the middle school. At the first XC practice, however, he was the third fastest after two seniors. Because of Covid, there was no state championship but the top five runners with the lowest time were All Conference and the top three were named All State. Griffin received the first of what would be eight All State honors. Still holding on to other sports, though, he played basketball in the winter and baseball in the spring.

Come sophomore year, Griffin decided to go mostly in with running by adding indoor track. He played one more year of baseball however, before giving it up for good his junior year. He was the Class M XC state champion and finished 16th at the State Open. Since the top 25 go to the New England Championships, he competed there where he finished 20th and was named All New England, one of only 2 underclassmen.

In his junior year he was all in with running – adding outdoor track in the spring. The boys XC team won the Class SS championship that year with Griffin coming in first 40 seconds ahead of the second-place finisher and notching another All-State award. At the State Open he finished 2nd and the college coaches started to call.

“I was getting calls every other day from coaches up and down the East Coast,” reported Griffin; it was a crazy time.”

This fall he won the 5000 meter at the XC divisional championship and at the State Championship with the boys team coming in second in both. At the State Open Griffin finished 4th and came in 3rd in New England in the 5000 meter.

During the indoor track season, the boys team finished 2nd overall and Griffin notched another two individual state titles with wins at the 1600 and 3200 meters. In December he signed a letter of intent to UConn.

When asked whether he prefers cross country to track, he stated that cross country is harder since every course is different and you have to know what your body can do, but it challenges you both mentally and physically, and he likes it better than running laps around a track.

Griffin runs between six and ten miles every day except Sunday for a total of 40-60 miles a week. He knows when he gets to college the XC races are longer at 8000 meters, so he wants to be ready to do his best.

At UConn in between running, he will be majoring in agricultural economics. We wish him the best and look forward to his continued success.

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