On Saturday, New Hampshire Cross Country will gather and compete to determine who is the best of the best for 2014. Whether teams and individuals use this as an opportunity to simply qualify for New Englands (top 6 teams/top 25 individuals) or as their final competition of the season, it is the one occasion when teams across all divisions toe the line head to head. The individual NH State Champion is crowned, and although no team championship plaques are awarded, bragging rights for the Granite State’s top team are earned. Good luck to everyone!
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One week removed from the Divisional meets, the Meet of Champions will offer up slightly cooler temperatures, a flatter course, much faster times, and increased competition. The top six teams move on to the New England Championships at Wickham Park in Connecticut. Interestingly, the top five teams on a merge of the divisional meets were the top five teams at last year’s MOC’s. Given the gap from the 5th team to the 6th team, it will take an upset to knock one of those teams out of a trip to New Englands. There are, of course, several teams who are willing to give it a try.
Of the top returning teams, Division II’s Coe-Brown is the obvious favorite to win a fourth straight MOC title. While their biggest races are still to come, Coe-Brown isn’t a team to coast through a State Meet. Expect them to come out firing on all cylinders. Assuming everyone is healthy, and led by an interchangeable set of runners, they could match or exceed last year’s 79-point margin of victory.
The next four teams are the top four teams from Division I; Bishop Guertin, Concord, Winnacunnet, and Pinkerton. On average team time they are seperated by only 5 seconds, and in the divisional race, the top three were separated by only 2 points. BG won with their depth – while they had the last top runner of the bunch, their 5th was ahead of any other team’s 5th runner. Pinkerton is an opposite type of team, with 2 way up front, then a gap back to the next scoring three. Winnacunnet and Concord are very evenly set-up, each with good front runners and fairly tight packs. The order of these four teams would probably change on any given day, although Pinkerton’s pack will need to have a stellar day for them to overtake all three. All four teams look like pretty good bets to extend their season for the second straight year, however.
The battle for the final New Englands spot should be tight, between five teams. The two DI schools in the mix are Exeter and Merrimack, and each has a very different team set-up. Exeter has an outstanding front-runner but is hurting for depth, while Merrimack has the depth advantage but no true frontrunner to give them a single digit to start their scoring. The two DII schools, Oyster River and Souhegan, are fairly similar, with OR having the advantage of the defending champion leading the charge. Souhegan was the number two DII school all year until last week, when Oyster River put everything together to grab the runner-up spot. OR has the momentum at this point, but Souhegan will be looking to steal it back. The final school in the mix hails from DIII, White Mountains, who surprisingly turned the DIII championship into a bit of a runaway. With a pack of 5 runners representing 5 different grades, they absolutely peaked at the right time. With the improvement they’ve shown over the past few weeks, it should surprise no one if they become the first DIII school since 2010 (Hopkinton) to represent New Hampshire at New Englands.
Individually, Oyster River’s Maegan Doody is the favorite to win and defend her title from a year ago. Exeter’s Shannon Murdock is on an impressive win streak though, and keeps Maegan from being an “easy” favorite. Never count out Coe-Brown’s stable of front-runners, Elisabeth Danis, 3rd a year ago, Hannah Parker, always dangerous with her monster kick and track credentials, and a healthy Brooke Laskowsky, 9th in 2013. Pinkerton’s Morgan Sansing could challenge for the win as well, while her teammate Ariel Vaillancourt and Concord’s Cassie Shea should be in the mix at the front of the pack as well.
It’s pretty tough to pick how everything will shake out at Meet of Champions for sure, but choosing the favorites is pretty easy. Pinkerton Academy and Souhegan’s Eli Moskowitz have to be the favorites going into Saturday’s contest, but as we’ve seen at the Divisional championships, being the favorite isn’t ever a sure thing.
Pinkerton practically doubled down on a very good Timberlane team who had the low stick with Liam Kimball’s individual win. With Nick Sevilla and Tom Hanlon up front, and a tight pack it will be hard for any other team to unseat them. However, with a lot more individual runners in the mix, and more teams from different divisions stealing places, you never can tell.
If an upset is going to happen, expect Timberlane or Alvirne to be the teams to do it. With Liam Kimball out front, and a supporting cast second only to Pinkerton, and the team average under seventeen minutes, expect to see Timberlane sitting towards the top when the dust settles.
Alvirne is another team with a shot at that top spot. The team has steadily rose through the rankings over the last couple years, going from an afterthought to a real contender. Over the years with the help of the Bellomo brothers and Phil Demers, who currently leads the team, the Broncos have upped their game. They certainly have the experience to make a run for championship.
Certainly not wanting to overlook the other divisions, Coe-Brown in Division 2 and Mascenic of Division 3 can’t be overlooked. Coe Brown won Division 2 with 61 points, beating the field by 77. While young, they certainly run with experience and have that pack mentality, and with two of the best coaches in the State at the helm, it would be foolish to disregard them as a threat.
Mascenic could be considered a long shot after they barely squeaked through their divisional championships, eeking out a win on the sixth man tiebreaker. But discount them at your own peril. It was their first race without their #1 runner Tim Fafard, an obvious low stick, but they still came out of the merge ranked eighth. Adjusting to life without Fafard and with so many other teams stealing points, the Vikings might just sneak into the top six.
What are the other contenders for a top six finish and a berth as a team to New Englands? Concord, Nashua South and Manchester Central hold down the 5th, 6th and 7th spots on the merge and have spent time ranked this season and all should be in the mix. If Londonderry can regroup and get back to running like they were in the beginning of season, they should be a threat to make it as well. And if Oyster River can be firing on all cylinders, they should be able to shake off their 14th place merge and take a shot at top six as well.
Individually, Eli Moskowitz of Souhegan should be in the driver’s seat, as the D2 race went out the slowest of the day and he won by almost twenty seconds over Josh Fontaine of Lebanon, in 15:59. To challenge him on the Mine’s Falls course should be Liam Kimball of Timberlane with a similar finishing time, but pushed over the final 800 meters by Abram Gagnon of Central and Sam Daly of Bedford. Divison 3’s Cam Daly of InterLakes was last year’s third placer at MOC’s and certainly likes the flat, fast course at Mine’s Falls. Expect the duo of Sevilla and Hanlon up there pushing the pace, Justin Carbone of Exeter and Fontaine of Lebanon to be up there as well.