Division Favorites – Concord, Oyster River, Kearsarge
Individuals to Watch – David Vorbach (North), Forest Mackenzie (Concord), Andrew Derry (Keene), Cameron Starr (Pelham), Simon Doneski (Hopkinton), Jeffrey Allen (Campbell)
The beginning of the cross country season is Monday! Hopefully, this preview finds everyone wrapping up a great summer of training and ready to show what they’ve got this fall.
Writing a preview for the cross country season is a lot of fun but comes with a lot of challenges. You never know who is coming back from the various teams and how far some of the runners have come. To try and figure out what we can expect, all the graduating seniors from the Division meets, Meet of Champions, and the JV State meets were removed, and that information was analyzed to try and make an educated guess on what we can expect. That said, there are always a few breakout stars who throw a wrench in the formula of any guess for an upcoming season and that’s what makes the whole process fun! Let’s dive into it.
Let’s get this party started!!! August is here and hopefully this preview finds you healthy, fit and excited for the upcoming 2017 cross country season! It’s always fun to take a look back at the previous year’s results to try and get an idea of what teams are going to be on paper going into the next season. We’ve seen Pinkerton dominate on the boys side for the last 4 years, do they have what it takes to make half a decade? Who’s tops on the individual side?
This should come as no surprise to even the casual stat trackers in the cross country world. While Concord loses a strong #1 in Jamie Wilkes, they bring back everything under the sun after that. My spreadsheet has them coming out with an eye popping 32 points in the division putting them well ahead of the second place team. Maybe you’re thinking, “They’re a five man team and if they lose a guy, they’re in trouble!” Not even a little. They have no less than 10 guys that should battle to be in their top 7 and 5 returners who could be top 10 in the division! Best of all for Concord, this includes Forest Mackenzie (11, 16:25)who should battle to be tops in the division. Supporting Mackenzie should be Oliver Spencer (12, 16:38), Eli Boesch-Dining (11, 16:54), Ryan Devine (10, 17:06), and Matthew O’Brien (12, 17:24). On paper, this is Concord’s season, we’re just watching it.
Keene slots in next with a score of 76. With their own guy on the top contending for the Division I individual title in Andrew Derry (12, 16:28), Keene has a great shot at keeping it close with Concord. Sophomore Jake Velaquez (16:30) will look to improve on an excellent freshman season and they have Wyatt Ferrando (11, 17:12) right on the cusp of being a top 10 returner. If there 4 and 5 slots improve, their score could drop quickly and pull them into contention with Concord
I’ve made the mistake of counting Pinkerton out before and I most definitely won’t do that again this year. While the spread sheet has them coming in at 90 points, they have 3 guys right on the edge of a top 10 placing and Coach Clark always seems to find a way when it matters to move his guys up. With Josh Noe (12, 17:01) and Joseph Gagnon (11, 17:01), Pinkerton should only have one senior in their top 7, so look for them to move up as the season progresses.
#4 Nashua North
North comes in with a score of 149 and with David Vorbach (12) and Max Ireland (11, 16:40), both looking like top 5 guys in the division, they start out strongly. They move back a bit from there with one other guy in the top 25 of returners. If their 4 and 5 slots improved a lot over the summer, or maybe a freshman comes in and makes some noise, they could quickly move down and join the battle with our top three. There’s a rumor that Joseph Curran (10), who had a strong freshman track season for the Titans will do cross this season and that could really help! We all remember last year when North bounced back from Divisions to shock NH and take home the Meet of Champions title, so do not count the Titans out!
With a score of 177, Londonderry would be a long shot to compete with the top teams this year. Their top returner Jake Donnelly (12, 17:26) comes in at 20th place, so Londonderry is going to have to rely on strong pack running if they’re going to get that score down. Helping them out could be a group of freshman (Ryan Young, Will Heenan, Matt Griffin) who went 1-2-3 in their division as 8th graders. Could the youth infusion move the Lancers up?
Alvirne has a similar outlook to Londonderry coming in with a score of 186. They have a stronger front runner in Justin Caronneau (11, 17:02) coming in at 15th, but they will rely on some pack running to move up the rest of their top 5 and hopefully get their score down. Look for seniors Cameron Mooers (17:34) and Matt Robert (17:51) to lead in this department.
Normally, I’d stop at #6, but Winnacunnet is a team to keep an eye on. They’re young and they showed some serious flashes of brilliance in outdoor track season. Keep an eye on them!
The individual Division I champion is a tough one to pick this year. David Vorbach (North) is probably the favorite especially after a dominant indoor and outdoor season which culminated in a blazing 9:14 3200! He has had some struggles with Derryfield though, so that could leave the door open for a couple of other competitors. Forest Mackenzie from Concord could absolutely capitalize and has showed off some serious racing skill as a sophomore in cross country and outdoor track. Andrew Derry from Keene seems to always be right on Mackenzie’s heels and it seems like eventually his day will come. Derry’s teammate, sophomore Jake Velazquez is also a talent that should not be overlooked. Don’t count out Vorbach’s teammate Max Ireland either. He had a great end to his cross season last year and looked excellent running low 4:20s in the mile in the spring.
Division 2 this year seems to be a case of one team as a clear favorite and everyone else scrambling for 2nd – 6th ! If that seems like an overly absolutist statement, let’s talk facts.
Oyster River had to be considered a run-away favorite (literally) coming into this season based solely on their returnees; four from last year’s top 25 overall at the D2 Championships. Henry Keegan (11, 16:51) and Parker Spinney (12, 16:55) lead a very talented group of returnees. Not resting on their laurels however, the Bobcats add two incoming freshman stars in Andrew O’Brien and Owen Fleischer. Also add to the mix Midwest transfer Kieran Murphy (4:47 1600, 10:04 3200 last year in his first year running track…) and OR looks to be one of the top teams in the state regardless of division.
After them, Pelham seems poised to be best of the rest with a very good 1-2-3 punch of Cameron Starr (12, 16:17), Jacob Doorman (12, 17:02), and James Msaddi (11, 17:33). All three were in last year’s top 26 at D2s and Starr looks the favorite to win individually. They will need to fill out the 4-5 spots to be a top tier team but even without much additional help, the Pythons seem to be Meet of Champions (MOC) bound (top 6 in D2).
Right with Pelham is Hollis-Brookline, returning 5 of their top 7 from last year. They could be in a position to take the second place plaque with a tight pack, led by Kenny Corsetti (11, 17:01) and Evan Simonds (11, 17:08). In both the NHCC pre-season rankings and pre-Championships rankings last season, the Cavaliers were not mentioned anywhere, and they made us look foolish with a 4th place finish at the Championships! H-B can’t sneak up on anyone this year; they have up-front talent and depth.
After three consecutive years on top of the podium, on paper, Coe-Brown looks like they are due for a down year. Graduating 5 of their top 6 from last year’s championship team would be a huge hit for most programs, but the Bears are always resourceful and will bring up several members of last season’s JV State Championship team to be led by Evan Tanguay (12, 16:46) the #2 returner in the division. Add three talented incoming frosh in Luke Tkaczyk, Porter Heigis and Wyatt Mackey and C-B looks to stay perpetually in the mix for a MOC berth.
Con-Val looks to be next in line also returning 5 of their top 7 from last year. Led by Evan Coyne (11, 17:34) and Ben Henry (11, 17:49), the Cougars look strong if they can get their pack tight enough. With the right grouping and performances, C-V could sneak up on a team or two listed above.
Rounding out the projected top 6 teams is Hanover led by Morgan Baughman (12, 17:02) as the number 7 overall returnee. The Marauders return six of their top seven, but will need their incredibly closely grouped 2-5 guys to improve if they want to ensure a MOC spot and very conceivably leapfrog a team or two listed above.
Teams to watch out for include Kingwood, led by a great 1-2 in Wyatt Pooler (12, 17:10) and Cameron Stinchfield (12, 17:47), Kennett led by Caleb Esmay and Aidan Hagerty, and fresh off indoor and outdoor track titles Trinity led by Emmanuel Ndahayo.
Pelham’s Starr has emerged at “the guy”and is the top D2 returner by almost 30 seconds. Starr made a big leap last year on the distance scene and projects to be one of the top harriers in the entire state. He looks to be a virtual lock to win the individual D2 title. Chasing Starr will be Tanguay of Coe-Brown, the Oyster River duo of Keegan and Spinney, as well as Spenser Sawyer (12, 17:07) of Windham. New this year to XC is Portsmouth’s Ryan Prinz (1:57 800, 4:29 1600 as a soph last year) is a runner to watch.
Looking forward to the season, good luck and good health to all teams!
The Monadnock Huskies made an incredible run in 2016, coming out of nowhere to snatch the title away from Kearsarge, who seemed at season’s beginning to be poised to repeat as champions. However, the Huskies were very senior heavy, graduating their top three and four of their top five, including individual winner James Elmour. Lucas Beteau (12, 17:42) and Simon Swartout (11, 17:54) will lead the very different looking 2017 squad.
Losing about the same number of seniors, Kearsarge however looks to be the favorite to regain their title in 2017. The Cougars will be led by Aidan Brooks (12, 16:58) and has a strong cast of support crew that will likely be ready to take up the mantle.
Third last year and looking to move up is Mascenic. While having lost the services of one of D3’s best in Jake Movsessian, the Vikings look to continue to press for that top spot, led by DJ Turner (12, 17:21) and a less greener and more experienced crew. Include the addition of the Division 3 Middle School Championship 4th and 6th place finishers in Josh Movsessian (Jake’s younger brother) and Landen Vaillancourt, expect the Vikings to make their push for the top towards the end of October.
The next few spots from the 2016 championships, Derryfield, Campbell and Prospect Mountain all saw some significant losses and will need to reload quickly if they want to be in the hunt. Derryfield will be led by Caleb Richmond (12, 17:37), Campbell by Jeffrey Allen (11, 16:51) and Prospect by Thomas Howlett (10, 17:20.)
Making a bid for one of the top five spots should be Moultonborough. The Panthers will be led by Tyler McLaughlin (12, 16:59) who moved quickly up the ranks in his first year in cross after converting from soccer.
Expect the top of D3 to be occupied by one of these four individuals, Allen of Campbell, Brooks of Kearsarge, Simon Doneski of Hopkinton (12, 16:44) and McLaughlin of Moultonborough. Doneski had the best record last fall, finishing second in D3 and the first D3 athlete at MOCs, but injury sidelined him from a spring campaign. Allen arguably had the best spring. After that we’re looking at Ian Remenar (12, 17:13) of Belmont, Ian Daly (12, 17:15) of InterLakes, Howlett of Prospect, Turner of Mascenic and Richmond of Derryfield.
Meet of Champions
Ok, annual disclaimer warning. With 15 of the top 25 finishers from 2016 graduated, predicting what will happen at the 2017 MOCs is, well, ridiculous. Except when looking at the aforementioned Division 1 favorite Concord. On paper and considering all three seasons last year, the Crimson Tide is indeed loaded to not only make a run at the the title this year, but next year as well. Yes they do have Mackenzie as their number one and leader, but they also have the experience of Duncan, Boesch-Dining, O’Brien and the youth in Devine.
As with Division 1, Keene should be the top contender to Concord. They have 2 in Derry and Valezquez who will certainly score low. Also with Keene, right now it looks like D2 Oyster River. With Keegan finishing in the top 10, Spinney in the top 20, it will probably come down to their 3-4-5 and how high they can place, but they should easily qualify for New Englands.
After these three, it will come down to which teams develop the best between now and the first weekend in November as well as which teams handle flat courses better. If they haven’t done so already look for Pinkerton and North to be ready to contend by then. The edge should definitely go to North as Vorbach and Ireland should certainly both finish in the top 10 at the very least. Don’t count out D2 Pelham either for a similar reason with Starr and Dorman.
Of course, with a season like we are about to witness, there will be a surprise team to jump well into contention. With 3 stud freshmen, Londonderry could see themselves vault into contention.
Individually, with one of the best in NH history, OR’s Patrick O’Brien graduated, a new king will be crowned this year. Of the returners, Pelham’s Starr certainly had the best cross country season last year as he not only broke the 16:00 barrier at Mines Falls, but also down in Rhode Island at New Englands where he placed 6th overall in 15:50.
If Starr had the best cross country season, North’s Vorbach certainly had the best spring track season. He ran not only 9:19 on NH soil, but improved to 9:14.08 at New Englands. This is a type of breakthrough which can lead to really big things!
So it should come down to a battle between Starr and Vorbach, right? Not necessarily, when you have the rising talent we have this year. Beginning with the Concord’s Forest Mackenzie, who is the gutsy tactician of the state. If the top two falter, rest assured Gump will be there to pounce.
Hopkinton’s Simon Doneski and Keene’s Andrew Derry are 2 seniors who have certainly experienced solid progression over their four years. Both are tremendously solid, smart runners who should not be counted out either.
And then we have Campbell’s Jeffrey Allen, who certainly has the largest upside. It seemed as if last year, Allen continued to get better and better discovering the strength necessary to excel not only on the track but in cross country. With Mines Falls seemingly tailor-made for his style of racing, we are looking at Allen as the dark horse who could possibly surprise everyone.
2016 Division Races (2016 MOC Race is below)