From Meet Management: MOC course has significant standing water and mud on course. Boots suggested for course walk through. With the coming rain, we’re looking at almost 2 inches in some places.
On Saturday, for the 42nd occasion, New Hampshire Cross Country will gather and compete to determine who is the best of the best for 2018. 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 time when the best teams across all divisions toe the line, head to head in one race. 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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Girls Race – 2:30
2018 has certainly been a unique year especially when considering attempting to rank the best girls team in the state. Not in the last 20+ years, at least, has there been so many teams with a shot at winning the MOCs or making New Englands. Parity certainly prevails! Throw in the impact of the weather as the course deteriorated through the Divisional Meets last weekend, and we find ourselves quite thankful we have a Meet of Champions to settle many friendly arguments!!! In recent years, we have used the Divisional Merges as our guide to compose this preview and still will.
Current NH #1 happens to be the defending New England Champ, Pinkerton. After a relatively slow start this season, the Trailblazers find themselves in familiar territory at the top of the heap come the end of the season. It seems as if the past few years, the coaching staff has perfected this, and really, should we have expected anything different from the defending New England Champions? Last week, they had to rely on all of their top five scorers, Meghan Cross, Mariesa Preble, Ciara April, Riley Sweeney, and Molly McGaffigan to hold off a hard charging Exeter squad by 3 points to retain their D1 Title. With D2 Champ Coe-Brown in the mix in addition to Exeter, the Trailblazers will once again have to rely on each scoring member as well as race the second half to perfection ensure their victory.
Talk about upstart!!! The Exeter Hawks made everyone believers as they took the race to Pinkerton last week to kick off the Divisional meet! It was the first time since 1978 that an Exeter cross country team had brought home hardware from Division 1s. Led by senior Violet Sullivan, Exeter has the depth and potential to take the MOCs. If they can close over the final half mile, don’t be surprised if Sullivan and company, Grace Mercier, Allison Kelley, Grace Jordan, and Hadley Raymond, actually win and enter New Englands as NH’s top team.
NH number 1 for most of the season, Coe-Brown, sits at number 3 after winning the Division 2 title over the most challenging of conditions. This week we will find out for certain if this is truly where they stand. They have defeated both Exeter (Manchester Invite) and Pinkerton (Pelham Invitational) head to head at one point or another this season. Led by Addison Cox, Ella Malone, and Abigail O’Connor, the Bears have settled on a top 7 which seemingly improves every week. Throw in a few brand new varsity runners in Miranda Compton, Amelia Edmonds, Tessa Millette, coupled with the lone senior leader in Autumn Graham, the Bears also have the ingredients to challenge on Saturday and beyond.
Next in the merge is NH#4 and D2 Runner-Up Con-Val. Led by their terrific trio in Clare Veverka, Rachel Hurley and Schuyler Michalak, the Cougars will always post the low sticks to be competitive in the large meets. Further, with the development of #4 runner Sarah Newell, one can never count out Con-Val.
One of the relative surprises of the weekend had to be NH #5 Concord’s 3rd place finish in D1 and 5th place ranking on the merge. With one of the best packs in the state, the Crimson Tide continues to improve as the season progresses. Fortunate to have the potential low-stick in Morgane Orcutt, Concord has a strong chance to hold their ranking and qualify on Saturday.
NH #6 Bishop Guertin is similar to Con-Val as Caroline Fischer and Caroline Towle will certainly post top 5 finishes. If their supporting cast can continue to improve as they have all season, expect to see the Cardinals competing as a team next weekend. Especially given the MOC’s being contested on their home course influences us to feel even stronger about this pick.
Talk about racing strong on Mines Falls, last year Souhegan essentially stole the show from Pinkerton with a 5 point victory by running a phenomenal team race. This year, the Lady Sabers have persevered through injuries and still find themselves on the precipice of qualifying once again for New Englands in spite of these challenges. Led by Arielle Zlotnick and freshman Chloe Trudel, don’t count out the NH#7 team to be racing next weekend at Derryfield.
Sitting at NH#8 is Salem which sent notice to all of NH Cross Country that they were contenders in 2018. Again, looking at the success of their middle school program, expect Salem, led by freshmen Bethany Graham and Natalie Coryea to have an outside shot this weekend, and to qualify for multiple New Englands Championships in the upcoming years.
Teams which should not be overlooked include NH#9 Manchester Central, NH#10 Bedford, Keene and Oyster River. Because everything is so close, if one or more of these teams catch fire on Saturday, they could surprise!
Simply stated, last year was epic with Jackie Gaughan running in the 16:50s, Julia Robitaille not too far behind her posting a 17:05, and Caroline Fischer also in the 17:40s. A few variables to consider when looking at 2018. First off Cali Coffin looked to join Robitialle as the next potential runner to break 17:00 at Mines Falls when she posted a 17:21 at the Nashua North Invitational in September. Unfortunately she has incurred an injury causing her to miss the rest of the season. As a sophomore, we will simply hit pause on this particular story because assuredly she will be back next year picking up where she left off. The 2nd variable is Merrimack Valley freshman phenom, D2 Champ Sophia Reynolds, who beat Robitaille this past weekend. Robitaille, has been steadily improving as the season has progressed, and one would have to surmise has been biding her time until championship season. What is exciting is she will have company once again in Reynolds, who has to be the favorite this week as she posted the fastest time by 16 seconds last week in the most challenging conditions of the day. Joining this D2 party, most certainly will be D1 champ BG’s Fischer who ran the same time Robitaille did with an 18:48. Expect these three to take off from the gun and establish a triumverate at the front of the field. Unfortunately the third variable will again be the weather. With 1-2 inches of rain in the forecast for Thursday night to Saturday morning, the course will be wet and relatively slow.
The chase pack will be comprised of West’s Corinne Robitaille, BG’sC. Towle, CBNA’s Cox, D3 Champ Mya Dube (Kearsarge), Milford’s Lauren Robinson, Pinkerton’s Cross, Exeter’s Sullivan, Souhegan’s Trudel and Zlotnick as well as the Con-Val trio of Veverka, Hurley and Michalak.
Boys Race 3:20
Last year, Concord won Meet of Champions for the first time in many years with a 15:53 team average. Quite the return to the top. If Mother Nature cooperates just a bit, this year could be even faster. If the season was a race, Concord has led gun to tape (almost there anyway). NH#1 all season, the Crimson Tide has everything. From strong senior leadership in 2-time D1 Champ Forest MacKenzie, Eli Boesch Dining, and Aidan O’Hern to juniors David Cook and Ryan Devine to youth with sophomores Eben Bragg and Brayden Kearns, Concord is deep and balanced. They have set their sites on New Englands, but that does not make the MOCs any less important as they like to build momentum to bolster their confidence when attempting to upset favorite and Northeast #1 Bishop Hendricken of Rhode Island next week.
While Concord seems to be a possible foregone conclusion, the next several teams might be separated by only 30 or so points. Based on the Divisional merge, the pack is led by NH#2 Keene, the expected D1 runner-up by 13 points over Pinkerton last weekend. This cushion shrinks to only 5 points on the merge. Led by Jake Velasquez, Torin and Aidan Kindopp, Keene certainly has the up front strength to fare quite well at Mines Falls and keep their #2 ranking. If Wyatt Ferrando, Nico Ramirez and Sergio Sartini can close the gap somewhat, they certainly will.
NH#3 is no stranger to contending for a perennial New England berth. Last week, Pinkerton selected the right time to have their best team performance of 2018 to place 3rd by a scant 3 points ahead of 4th place Mack Plaque rival Londonderry. With low stick Joseph Gagnon leading their top 4 of Nolan Preble, Luke Brennan and Jeff Mize, the Long Red Line will extend to next Saturday at Derryfield. If Nathan Steiger or Steven Groulx can close the gap to the top 4, they could be 2nd.
Londonderry (NH #4) has also picked the right time to be racing on all cylinders. The weekly improvement from injury of Will Heenan probably has a lot to do with that. Only thirteen points out of 3rd and 18 points out of 2nd on the merge, the Lancers could very well leapfrog Pinkerton and Keene. Sporting a great pack time of only 25 seconds between their 2-5 runners, Kerry Daley, Eric Nowak, Matthew Griffin, and Dylan Hotter, if this pack can edge ever closer, they will be at #2.
Winnacunnet (NH#5) actually beat Londonderry at D1s, but slipped to 5th ranked based on being 3 points behind the Lancers on the merge. The Warriors can certainly catch the three immediate schools above them. Expect Colin Donnelly to bounce back after struggling a bit in the final moments of the D1 race this past weekend. He is simply too good and with a benefit of a strong coaching staff, will certainly crack the top 10 at least. Along with Jack Taylor, Noah Taracena, and Austin Denis, Winnacunnet sports one of the best top 4’s in NH in 2018. They will make their presence felt come Saturday.
Talk about potential to leap frog, the current NH#6 Coe-Brown certainly has enough firepower to launch up the rankings in a couple days. Along with the rest of Division 2, being the 6th race of the day, the 2018 D2 Champs had to be slowed somewhat given the conditions. When considering names of athletes and teams they have ran with all season, and their knack for racing well in the big contests, do not rest on the Bears. Led by Luke Tkaczyk, Dawson Dubois, and Wyatt Mackey having been their top 3 all season coupled the incredible emergence of Logan Mihelich and ever improving senior Gavyn Lewis, this version of Coe-Brown seems to be just getting started. Couple this with both their six and seven being sophomores (that is 5 sophomores in the top 7) in Partick Hill and Carter Sylvester, the Bears will continue to be in the mix with the large schools for a while.
Another team not to overlook is NH#7 Oyster River. A week after gamely attempting to defend their 2017 D2 title, expect the Bobcats to be huge factors as they perennially are in the thick of the MOCs. Sophomore Andy O’Brien certainly has the momentum he generated from an incredible last mile at D2s which saw him almost stealing the win from MV’s David Reynolds. Multi-sport stud Myles Carrico continues to improve with every week, and with the resurgence of senior Henry Keegan, the Bobcats have both the experience and talent to move up. Do not be surprised if they qualify for New Englands again.
The Joseph Curran-led Nashua North squad (NH#8), Hanover (NH#9)and Exeter (NH#10) are the other ranked teams with an outside shot should the top teams falter. Also, don’t sleep on D3 Champs and Runner-Ups Mascenic and Campbell.
Last year Nashua North’s David Vorbach and Max Ireland pulled off the 1-2 finish on their home course leaving the top Concord runners, MacKenzie and Boesch Dining, with a feeling of unfinished business. Coupled with Boesch Dining’s unhappiness with last week’s D1 performance, this is not-so-good news for the rest of the state, making the possibility of the Crimson Tide matching Vorbach’s and Ireland’s feat a real possibility.
But this is NH, and this is cross country. Which means, there is always someone standing in the way. Exeter’s Jacob Winslow might very well be that someone. Injured for most of the season, Winslow has literally been training for only 3 weeks and came with 7 seconds on a hilly course last week of MacKenzie. Winslow has to be licking his chops when considering the course at Mines Falls as he is a miler at heart. Keene’s Velasquez has to be another contender looking to make waves as he fearlessly took the race to the Concord duo last week. Look for him to be in the mix of the front pack as well. No one will want to be around North’s Curran at the end. He has one of the most potent kicks in the Granite State. Obviously, Londonderry’s Heenan continues to improve weekly, so he will be in the front pack.
As for D2 contenders, obviously the champ, David Reynolds will be in the front pack. Look for his D2 trailers O’Brien, Tkaczyk and Dubois to be there as well. Finally don’t rest on the D3 combatants in Campbell’s Jeffrey Allen and Mascenic’s Landen Vaillancourt. Expect a rather large front pack to develop in the early going and for it to spread out over the woods loop. Then it will simply be the ones that feel the best.
Good luck to everyone!