Division Favorites – Pinkerton, Hanover, Monadnock
Individuals to Watch – Jackie Gaughan (Exeter), Madeline Hunt (Souhegan), Alli Pratt (CBNA), Leya Salis (Bedford), Kristie Schoffield (MV), Danielle Slavin (Oyster River), Violet Sullivan (Exeter)
In 2015 Division 1 girls was a landslide. It wasn’t a matter of WHO was going to win, but by how much. This year should look a little different. The early favorite is still defending champion Pinkerton Academy (NH#1) since they return 3 strong runners from that dominant team in 2015 where they all ran 19:17 or under at Derryfield. Yes, Jordan Vaillancourt (10, 19:02), Maison D’Amelio (10, 19:06), and Ciara April (10, 19:18) will probably all finish close to the top-5; however, it takes 5 scorers to get the title so they will be looking to their Division 1 JV Championship team to fill in those missing spots.
Bishop Guertin (NH #4) could be ready to give them a battle since they were second to them last fall and also return 3 from their varsity 7. Those top three should be in the top 20 at Division 1 which won’t be enough to contend. However, they will add to that group the fastest girl at the middle school state meet last year in Caroline Fischer who should jump right into the top Division One girls.
Next there should be a very tight battle for third between Alvirne (NH #5), Bedford (NH #7), Merrimack (NH #8) and Concord (NH #9). It is hard to separate these 4 teams before we see anybody race, but since Alvirne returns 6 of their top 7 from their third place team last year they seem to be the best of this group. If those returning varsity step up after a good summer of training they may have enough to shake things up at the top and have some new blood on the podium.
Bedford returns Division 1 individual runner up Leya Salis (12, 18:29) to lead their team and have 4 other returning varsity from their 7th place team of 2015. However, they will need to see big improvements if they want to battle with the top 3 teams. Fifth place Merrimack returns 5 of their varsity including Bailey Carrillo (11, 19:48) and Grace Corbett (11, 20:10), who should both be in the top 15, but again will look for their returning members to make them strong enough to be in the mix. Concord also returns 5 of their varsity from their 4th place D1 finish last year, including 7th place finisher Jennika Mannesto (12, 19:17), but once again will have to see how their summer training went to see how high they can finish.
After the top six there is an open door as to the remaining spots for Meet of Champions. Exeter has the best returning 1-2 in the state, but hasn’t showed the support behind them to compete. Londonderry was 8th last year graduated 2 of their varsity and lost another to injury. They are relying on their incoming freshmen to help them. Winnacunnet was 6th last fall, but graduated 2 of their top three. Central wasn’t in the top 8, but had the best middle school team winning the Large School State Championship. With incoming freshmen twin sisters in Keegan and Katelyn Pepin (2nd and 3rd in middle school state meet) they are bound to make them a contender.
Exeter’s Jacqueline Gaughan (11, 18:20) should repeat as Division 1 champion and probably the best in NH. This would make it the fourth year in a row that an Exeter girl has won Division 1. Trying to dethrone her will be Leya Salis (Bedford) and Gaughan’s teammate Violet Sullivan (10, 19:08). Pinkerton should have 2 of the top 5 in Vaillancourt and D’Amelio, if not two of the top 4. Rounding out the top 10 look toward Mannesto (Concord), April (Pinkerton), Winnacunnet’s Kelly Arsenault (12, 19:33), BG’s Gabrielle Dionne (12, 19:39), and Carrillo (Merrimack). Newcomers to these top 10 returnees could be Fischer (BG), Alvirne’s Jessica Fontaine (10, 19:54) and Londonderry’s Kalin Gregoire (11, 19:58).
Over the past 6 years, Coe-Brown Northwood Academy has had a stranglehold on the D2 title, winning MOCs 5 consecutive years, claiming a New England title (+ two runner-ups) and making 2 trips to Nike Team Nationals. With the graduation of 4 experiences, gutsy seniors, it seems their streak will be ended. Two teams are poised to battle for the top spot.
Prior to Coe-Brown’s run, Hanover (NH#3) also had a 6 year title reign, which also included a streak of MOC and New England titles as well as a couple trips to Nike Team Nationals. Well with the graduation of CBNA’s big 4, coupled with the re-emergence of Hanover girls marked by their runner-up finish in 2015, it seems as if 2016 marks the year the tide may turn back to the Lady Marauders. Hanover returns everyone, including their own big three in Hannah Wittmann (12, 19:39), Sadie Lingelbach-Pierce (11, 19:41), and Leila Trummel (10, 19:46). With Elsa Nordstrom (11, 20:16), Hanover has a spread of only 37 seconds between their top 4 places. If they can bring their 5th a bit closer they could cement their next title. One might be surprised by this pick since this Hanover group focuses on Nordic Skiing in the winter, but do not underestimate the Marauders. Winning seems to be in this school’s DNA, and it has been a while.
The team with a similar amount of talent and is the co-favorite is Souhegan (NH#2). They were only 6 points behind Hanover at last year’s D2 Championships with their top runner Madeline Hunt not having her best day. With Hunt back to form a week later at Meet of Champions, the Sabers jumped to placed 3rd overall. Hunt would go on to have phenomenal track seasons highlighted by this past spring when she ran 11:04 in the 3200. With Hunt leading the way and posting a very low number, her supporting cast of Jane Leighton (11, 19:31), Shannon Earley (12, 19:55), Arielle Zlotnick (10, 5:29 1600) and Elise Lambert (11, 20:09) have enough talent and experience to stand on top of the podium. Couple that with the addition of incoming freshman Marissa Romano, who placed 11th in the 2015 NH Middle School Championships (Large School), and the Lady Sabers have plenty to make a title run of their own.
After these top 2 teams, at least on paper, there seems to be a large gap. Coe-Brown (NH#6) only returns 2 of their top 7 from last year’s team, but one of those is third place finisher and top D2 returnee Alli Pratt (12, 18:56). Sarah Dupuis (11, 20:11) placed 19th at last year’s Division 2 meet and will be joined by 2015 JV runner-up Eleanor McDonough (11), who had a strong spring track season. If the Lady Bears can find 2 more reliable scorers, they could solidify a top 3 team finish.
Vying for Meet of Champions slots should be three teams, Kennett, Portsmouth and Hollis Brookline. Of those 3, Kennett holds a very slim 6-point advantage over Portsmouth when considering returning athletes. Both teams are supremely coached by NH legends Bernie Livingston (and family) and Stan Lyford, respectively.
With the graduation of two of the fastest NH Lady Harriers ever in Maegan Doody and Elisabeth Danis, this year’s quest for best in D2 will certainly be fun to watch. According to last year’s D2 results, Coe-Brown’s Alli Pratt is the fastest returnee with a scant 10+ second cushion over MV’s Kristie Schoffield and Oyster River’s Danielle Slavin. Conceding to conventional wisdom, if Schoffield is anywhere near the front of the race in its last stretch, one would have to pick her. Souhegan’s Madeline Hunt has also proven to have a healthy kick at the end of races, may also factor in here as well.
Additionally, this past spring track season saw the emergence of 3 other contenders. Windham’s Susie Poore dropped an 11:05.25 last spring which places her right with Hunt’s 11:03.99. However, the athlete arguably making the largest splash this spring was West’s Julia Robitaille who improved to 10:58.84 at New Englands bettering all of the above. Racing a 5k over the challenging ascents and descents that is Derryfield is a whole other story than eight flat laps, but progress is progress and these times on the track are notable.
Look to another breakout spring star Con-Val’s Clare Veverka (10, 20:09), Souhegan’s Leighton, Hanover’s Wittman, Lingelbach-Pierce, and Trummel to round out the top 10.
Last year, the Monadnock (NH#10) Lady Huskies upset the girls from White Mountains, winning the Division 3 championship over the Bow Falcons. This year will likely be harder to hold onto the crown for the Huskies, with the loss of 2015 third placer Kayla Blair and top 20 runner Skyler Cooke. However, every year Monadnock seems to get enough bodies to be competitive and with D3 3200 meter champion Joelle Lafreniere, there is no reason they can’t get it done. They also will receive the services of the 21st place finisher Sydney Eccleston from the MS State championships. Finally, with 2nd year coach George Adams fully in charge, look for them to be in the mix and potentially in the top spot.
However, strong challenges will come from the next five teams behind them from 2015. The #2 team Bow, the #4 team Campbell, the #5 team Kearsarge each lose only one from their top five. Third place Moultonborough loses two, while 6th place White Mountains loses no one.
Two of these teams will be restocking with some solid acquisitions from their respective middle school programs. Kearsarge adds two from the top 25 in the 8th grade non scoring race in Jocelyn Herr (11th) and Jenna Bears (23rd) to returnee Cerys Wheatley (11th, 22:31) and the rest of the returning Cougars. Campbell will be led by Caitlin Callinan (11th, 21:42) and Sammy Molinari (12, 22:53)) adding two freshmen from the girls middle school small school race in Gillian Gallagher (4th) and Kaylee E’toile (11th.)
Two teams outside the top six that look to take a step forward are the Hawks from Hopkinton and the Vikings from Mascenic. Hopkinton will get two members of the State Champion Small School race in Sydney Stockwell (8th) and Addison Locke (19th), who should help fill the void left by the graduation of D3’s individual champion Sarah Nadeau. Mascenic might even end up with better odds, adding three from the Boynton Middle School squad in Samantha Hughson, Sophie Callahan, and Shelby Babin. This trio now has four solid years in the Boynton /Mascenic system and should make an immediate impact for the Lady Vikings. Add them to surprise runner up finisher Madi Labrie (10, 20:19) and #8 returnee Samantha Bilodeau (11, 21:17) and there is no predicting where they will end up come late October.
On paper Madison Labrie is the strong favorite going into the season with a twenty second cushion between her and #2 returner Alice Riley (10, 20:30) of Belmont. However, as one of the strongest freshmen softball players in the state, the big question is whether Labrie will get the work in over the summer to overcome the lack of a spring track season. Riley had an excellent spring campaign that saw her improve to 5:32/12:11 in the 1600/3200 and should be a force at the front. After Labrie and Riley, anticipate the top of the division to include Leah Dutkewych (20, 20:50) and Peyton Giles (11, 21:44) of White Mountain, Olivia Krause (12, 21:29) and Sohani Demian (12, 22:04) of Bow, Isabella Mormando (10, 20:54) of Conant, Joelle Lafreniere (11, 21:13) of Monadnock, Molly Schilling (12, 21:18) of Newfound, Delia Cormier (11, 21:26) of Laconia and Samantha Bilodeau of Mascenic.
Last year, Pinkerton and Coe-Brown waged an epic battle which saw several lead changes over the entire 5k course at Mine Falls. It was a phenomenal competition between two teams, each truly yearning for the win and each member of both teams genuinely laying everything on the line. In the end, CBNA outlasted a valiant effort by the Trailblazers to claim their 5th consecutive MOC crown. That victory and the graduation of the 4 key seniors who led the team, seemingly marks the end of the run and for the first time in five years, a new favorite heading into a NH cross country season. The great thing here is there are several teams which have a path to being crowned best in NH by season’s end.
Based upon their experiences last year which saw them deal CBNA their first loss to a NH team in several years at the Woods Trail Run, it seems the ladies of Pinkerton may have the best shot at claiming the title best in NH. Although they graduated two of their top five, they do return their top three in Jordan Vaillancourt, Maison D’Amelio, and Ciara April who all were in the 18’s at last year’s MOC. These three know how to race as a group and with coach Amy Bernard seems to have the hot hand with filling in their top 5 with their depth.
Challenging the Trail Blazers will be D2’s Souhegan and Hanover. This is where the identity of a MOC race is different from that of a Divisional Championships. We give Souhegan the edge here because their #1, Madeline Hunt can post a very low score. This is highly advantageous especially if she pulls the rest of her team with her. If Hunt can beat Pinkerton’s best runner, and the rest can be close to their #3, the Lady Sabers may be in business. Hanover will need a small spread between their 1-4 runners and if that pack can finish in the top 10-20, they will be very tough as well.
After the top 3, a pair of D1 teams seem to be on the rise. Alvirne returns a strong team which now has the experience and confidence from placing 5th and making it to New England’s in 2015. They return their top 6 that are hungry to continue rising up the NHCC ladder. Bishop Guertin looks to be next. With their additions and potential for a low number couple with their pack running, they have an opportunity to also make waves and qualify for New England’s.
There seems to be a pack of teams vying for the final qualifier for New Englands. Those teams include Coe-Brown, Bedford and Merrimack. Of these teams, both Coe-Brown and Bedford benefit from their top runners potentially posting single-digit scores. Both teams have to find a supporting cast to avoid those large numbers on the back end of their scoring five. Merrimack returns to 5 of their top 7 and race very well as a team. If they can move their pack up, they can be dangerous.
Individually, last year’s race saw an incredible 18 girls under 19:00. Eight of these girls graduated
including Doody and Danis (both in the 17’s!!) leaving Exeter’s All-American (this past track season in the 5k!) Jackie Gaughan as the clear favorite. Gaughan ran 17:46 last year placing 3rd, but blazed an incredible 16:53.82 at this past springs Nationals to place 5th. If she can stay healthy, state records are certainly at risk.
Although Gaughan is the clear favorite, the Granite State is strong and return a pack of runners who will wage a fierce battle. Bedford’s Leya Salis seem to have the edge here with her track speed and tenacious racing, but don’t count out Souhegan’s Madeline Hunt, MV’s Kristie Schoffield, OR’s Danielle Slavin, Exeter’s Violet Sullivan and CBNA’s Alli Pratt. NH is so deep! we can’t look past the trio from Pinkerton in Jordan Vaillancourt, Maison D’Amelio, and Ciara April or West’s Julia Robitaille. All of the above have the pedigree and experience to climb and place in the top 3. As with every year count on some mystery freshman or out-of-state transfer to attempt to crash that front pack and round out the top 10.