Division Favorites – Concord, Coe-Brown, Mascenic
Individuals to Watch – Torin Kindopp (Keene), Andy O’Brien (Oyster River), Luke Tkaczyk (Coe-Brown), Aidan Cox (Coe-Brown), Jared Khalil (Sanborn), Landen Vaillancourt (Mascenic), Luke Brennan (Pinkerton), Patrick Gandini (Gilford), Eben Bragg (Concord), Brayden Kearns (Concord), Rohan Rai (Windham), Stephen Connolly (Pinkerton), Tyler Sheedy (Dover), Owen Fleischer (Oyster River)
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. This year, with the pandemic impacting all facets of life, cross country in NH will look vastly different. What exactly that entails is yet to be seen, so we have decided to first pen a preview based upon information available to us like past years. If we need to post a follow up at a later date, we certainly will.
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.
Note: All times referred to in Division previews are from the 2019 Divisional Championships at Derryfield, while times referred to in the MOC preview are from the 2019 MOCs.
Mascenic has been on a roll the last couple of years. With three state titles in a row and arguably one of the state’s top runners in senior Landen Vaillancourt, it would be tough to bet against the Vikings. However no one stands undefeated forever and once you’ve reached the top, every team is working to bring you down. But it won’t be easy. Mascenic returns junior Connor Traffie giving the Vikings the best 1-2 combo in Division 3. If senior Josh Movsessian puts in a full season and with the support of junior Jethro Somero and sophomores Drew Traffie and Ryan O’Shea, the Vikings could be looking for their first New England berth since 2006.
Looking to lead the charge against the red and blue should be the Hawks of Hopkinton and the Orioles of Conant. Hopkinton snuck in between Conant and Mascenic last year, under some stealthy pack running and a solid top six. Having graduated senior leader Shepyrd Murdough the Hawks pick up Tri County D3 Champ Ben Daniels and a bunch of other freshmen to support seniors Michael Eggers-Emerson, Nick Simpkins and Theo Mollano.
Conant will be looking to pick up where they left off last year. Hoping to topple Route 124 rivals Mascenic, Conant had five in front of the Vikings after the mile when disaster struck and their usual #1 senior Matt Bernier collapsed then staggered in at 151st place. Expect him to come back with a vengeance and add that to junior soccer convert Ethan Vitello, senior Ethan Wienhold and junior John Mormando and Bill Edson’s boys could scratch their way to the top of the D3 heap.
With Kearsarge moving up to Division 2, the remaining two teams, Campbell and Trinity, will be looking to sneak into the top five teams moving onto the Meet of Champions. This might prove difficult as both teams suffered significant losses to graduation. Campbell lost its top three in Matt Dion and the Scopelite twins, returning just seniors Colby Schmitt, Keegan Reynolds and sophomore Devin Lencki. Coach Platt will need to round up some recruits if the Cougars are to make a run at the top of D3.
Trinity fares a little better regarding graduation, losing three of their top four, returning sophomore Aidan Palmeter to lead the Pioneers. With support from senior Sam Hall, junior Hunter El-Azem, sophomore Matt Nardone, and great coaching from coach DJ Ayotte, if the Pioneers can fill the holes with some bodies and bring them up to speed, they should be in the running for a top five spot.
Probably the biggest climber this season should be Monadnock. Led by D3s number 3 returner Tyler Hebert, the Huskies lose no one and with the support of seniors Harry Ryan and Donavan Lombara, they could find themselves in the mix come championship time.
Individually, Mascenic’s Vaillancourt is the guy to beat. Returning champion and #3 last year at MOCs, Vaillancourt should be in the driver’s seat. However, don’t overlook Gilford’s Patrick Gandini, D3’s runner up, who beat Vaillancourt at New Englands, finishing 28th overall and NH’s #5. After that, the top returning runner is Monadnock’s Hebert, who is the last returner to finish under 17 minutes. The next tier down is Conant’s Vitello, InterLake’s Eben Misavage, Winnasquam’s Dylan Roberts, Mascenic’s Traffie, and Hopkinton’s Eggers-Emerson. Conant’s Vitello seems to have the most upside as last year he was a dual athlete splitting time with soccer. And don’t count out Conant’s Bernier, who had an ill timed illness affect his performance at both D3s and MOCs.
In Division 2 boy’s cross country, one team stands way out in the lead pack, and that’s Coe-Brown. Behind them it’s going to be an absolute battle for the next few spots.
Coe-Brown is far and away the best team in New Hampshire! Their team return six of their top seven which won both Division 2 and Meet of Champs, and includes the best 1 – 2 duo in recent NH history. Last year’s D2 Champion and runner-up, Luke Tkaczyk (12, 16:06) and Aidan Cox (10, 16:09) are back at it and if their spring time trials (9:19 and 9:20 in the 3200) are any indication, they’re faster than ever! You have to look back to Timberlane in the mid 1970’s (Mark and Dean Kimball) to find a returning duo on par with these two. The rest of this experienced, well-trained squad is right behind them, with Carter Sylvester (12, 16:25), Logan Mihelich (12, 16:35), Wyatt Mackey (12, 16:43) and Patrick Hill (12, 16:46). Add in one of CBNA’s JV Championship crew from last season, Lars Hogne (11), Tyler Tkaczyk (10), Tyler Rose (11), Gavin Demas (10), or incoming freshmen Chris Raymond or Jamie Lano (2nd and 3rd at Middle School Small School States), and you could see their entire pack finish under 16:40 at Derryfield…wow!
Just like last year, we have to give the edge for the runner-up spot to Oyster River. This school doesn’t ever seem to rebuild, they just reload! With the super-talented trio of Andy O’Brien (12, 16:31), Owen Fleischer (12, 16:33), and Dillon Labonte (11, 16:55), the team is in a solid position for another run to the New Englands. They will certainly need some help from last season’s JV squad, as Henry Hagan (10, 3rd D2/D3 JV States) and Ethan Bessette (11, 11th D2/D3 JV States) should make the jump to Varsity this season. The Bobcats will also look to incoming freshman Cole Harwood (3rd Large School MS Championships) to make a splash in their top 7.
Running right on Oyster River’s shoulder is Windham. The Jaguars surprised some people last year with their 4th place finish at D2’s. They won’t be sneaking up on anyone this year! They return with a more experienced squad, coming back with their full top 5 scorers, led by breakout star Rohan Rai (12, 16:21). Rai is followed by Trey Gonzalez (12, 17:27), Michael Killian (11, 17:47), Cole Flenniken (12, 17:53) and Logan Carter (10, 17:54). Rai has shown that he can mix it up with the best in the state and has a legit shot at the individual crown, and expect runners 2 – 5 to close the gap to him. Depth will certainly play a factor in this battle, and the team looks to get some help from last year’s top JV runners Jack Conrad (10) and Bradyn Carey (10). If Oyster River falters, look for Windham to take advantage!
Sanborn, looks to be right on the heels of both Windham and Oyster River. They continue to improve, returning 6 of 7 from last year’s varsity squad, and if healthy could also challenge for that runner-up spot. Front runner Dylan Khalil (12, 16:59 in 2018) is healthy and determined after missing the championship season with an ankle injury last year. Add in younger brother Jared Khalil (10, 16:15), and you have a 1-2 punch that rivals the best in NH (watch out CBNA and OR)! Next in line is Owen Stocker (12, 17:49) who looks to get back on track after a strong indoor campaign. Another thing working in Sanborn’s favor is the youngest member of the Khalil trio joins the squad this year. Tyson Khalil (1st Large School MS Championships) looks to make an immediate impact. There’s a slight gap back to the next 3, as Andrew Pugh (11, 18:36), Gavin O’Connell (10, 18:42), and Noah Cavallo (11, 18:47) will look to cut down the pack time and put Sanborn in a position to challenge the front-runners.
On paper, Souhegan and Con-Val look to be in a dead heat for the last two MOC berths. We’ll give Souhegan the edge here given their top returners trump Con-Val’s. The Sabers return 6 of 7 and are led by Kariso Anderson (10, 17:20) and Ethan McFee (12, 17:30). If we see continued improvement from Peter Headington (12, 18:16), Andrew Strauss (11, 18:20) and Drew Apple (11, 18:58), Souhegan will be in a great position to punch their ticket to run another week. Con-Val returns 6 of last year’s top 7 and will be looking to improve on their 6th place finish at D2’s. They are led by August Kotula (12, 17:24) and Danny Veverka (12, 17:51)
There are a handful of other teams that are currently on the outside looking in, but as we know, anything can happen once the gun goes off! Bow returns 5 of 7 from last year’s squad, including top finisher Benjamin Neff (12, 17:08). If the Falcons want to make a push to the top 6, they’ll need to see continued progress from Adem Aricanli (12, 18:03), Wyatt Weber (12, 18:48) and Connor Bernard (12, 18:55). If they can put it together when it counts, look for Bow displace someone and make the jump to the MOC’s.
A sleeper team could be Hanover, as they return a solid two with Daniel Frost (12, 17:23) and Mack Levy (10, 17:36), but will need some help from their impressive JV crew or incoming freshmen to have the firepower to compete this year.
Individually, this could be anyone’s race! It seems like any one of the lead pack could take down the individual title on any given day. The front pack is expected to be a who’s who of NH Cross Country, as CBNA’s Luke Tkazyck and Cox, Oyster River’s O’Brien and Fleischer, Sanborn’s Khalil Bros, and Windham’s Rohan Rai, all look to get that low stick to help their team to a championship. Add in Milford’s Caleb Korthals (12, 16:40) and the supporting cast of Coe-Brown studs (Sylvester, Mihelich, Mackey, and Hill), and you have the makings of a stellar cross country race. Luke Tkaczyk has to be the favorite as he owned Derryfield Park last year and will look to defend his title. However, given that this crew (with the exception of Cox and the younger Khalil) have all been battling it out against each other since freshman year, this will be a culmination of years of preparation, training, and heart!
After a weird spring and summer, it was really nice to sit down and look at cross country stuff and start thinking about the fall. This fall may not look exactly like what we’re used to, but let’s get out there, have a great time and make it work as best we can. Now, this year it seems likely that we’re going to have some surprises on the roster with kids who opt out of the season, but since we don’t have access to that information, we’re going to work under the assumption that everyone will be back.
Let’s dive into the data and see how things look for this upcoming season starting on the team side.
The defending champions look like they’re going to be the team to beat once again this season. Concord has two guys returning in the top five of the race including the number one Division I returner, Eben Bragg. Teammate Brayden Kearns is not far behind and the pair will likely push each other all season in what should be some fun races. Concord’s strength doesn’t end there with their four and five returners (Ryan Ciesluk and Sam Hilts) just outside of the top ten and I’m sure they’ll be looking to move up. The question for them will be who will move into the fifth spot. With the depth they’ve shown the last few years, a strong runner will likely grab that spot quickly.
Londonderry is not going to make things easy on Concord this year as they come with a strong upfront punch of their own with two guys in the top ten. Ryan Young and Matt Griffin both had excellent seasons and are always looking to be at the front of the race. Backing them up was excellent freshman Sean Clegg who comes back as a top twenty guy. Londonderry also returns the JV state meet winner in Will Plante, who is obviously ready to move up to the big leagues. So the question for the Lancers is who steps up after that? They may need a big step up from a young runner if they really want to challenge Concord.
Keene returns a guy who will be competing for the Division championship in Torin Kindopp, which always helps a team’s chances. Keene is also going to have some strong depth this season with two top twenty five returners in Jonathan Hills and Silas Johnson along with a fourth just outside of the top. If they want to challenge for the championship they’re going to need to find a fifth and move that whole group up a bit.
Pinkerton is another squad that has some serious firepower up front with the number two returnee Luke Brennan and Stephen Connelly, also a top ten returner. Brennan will be in the battle for Division I individual championship, but keep an eye on Connelly. Last year was his first ever season of cross country, so experience may help him move up the list. Pinkerton’s top three is rounded up by Ethan Charles, who is in the top twenty five, but after that the typically deep Pinkerton team may have some struggles. If there’s a team in New Hampshire that always seem to find guys though, it’s Pinkerton. Don’t be surprised when two guys jump right into those spots and seem to come out of nowhere.
5. Bishop Guertin
There are several great choices to fit into this fifth spot, but Bishop Guertin brings back six guys from the D1 race last year and could potentially be a team on the move. They had three sophomores who are top twenty five returners in the race in Nate Fondakowski, Alex Girata and Sebastian Zeman so if that group improves, Bishop Guertin could find themselves at the Meet of Champions as a team!
On the individual side, this should be a fun year to watch with the top two returners separated by less than two seconds. Picking between Concord’s Bragg and Pinkerton’s Brennan feels like a coin flip and hopefully we will get to see them race a few times in this upcoming season as I think we’ll see both runners are capable of winning races. They both need to watch their back as Kindopp is not a guy I’d ever want to have to out-sprint at the end of the race. If you’ve ever seen him on the track, you know what I mean. Concord’s Kearns is another guy to keep an eye on as there’s no way he’s going to make things easy on his teammate. Speaking of teammates, Londonderry’s Young and Griffin are two guys who have been battling since middle school and both of them have the type of mentality that will put them in the mix for the win. Salem’s Jackson Mazejka and Dover’s Tyler Sheedy were two guys who moved up a ton last season and definitely can’t be ignored as guys who need to be watched. Pinkerton’s Connelly might be the ninth returner, but I think he’ll move up this season as inexperience at Derryfield played a role in him not having his best run at D1’s last year.
Meet of Champions
With all 6 returners 16:10 or under, including the top individual MOC returner along with the defending D2 individual champion, Coe-Brown is the heavy favorite to repeat as champs at MOCs. They are simply fast regardless of type of course. Led by D2 Champ Tkaczyk and MOC top returner Cox (15:17), Coe-Brown boasts all 6 of their returners among the top twenty on paper. Factor in the nugget of Tkaczyk as the 13th returnee based solely on the MOCs race last year and the Bears could actually improve with Mackey, Sylvester, Mihelich and Hill being extremely consistent. It simply is a shame the pandemic has caused the cancellation of Nike Cross Nationals. This was the year the Bears were focused on to make a run at being the first NH boys team to qualify for Nationals.
So, one would think the competition will be for 2nd, and you would be correct. D1 favorite Concord certainly seems to be in the driver’s seat however, especially when one considers the damage Bragg and Kearns can do if they both are on. With the depth of the Crimson Tide, expect them to have a plethora of choices.
Next seems to be a pack of three teams poised to take a run at Concord if they should falter in the likes of Pinkerton, Windham and Londonderry. On paper, based on their returnees, these three are only separated by 4 points! Each team has 2 studs who could garner low sticks as Pinkerton’s BrennanandConnelly will battle with Windham’s Rai and Gonzalez as well as Londonderry’s Griffin and Young. The squad which develops a solid 3-4-5 scoring pack, should take the 3rd slot, but all three should garner a top 6 finish securing a qualification to New Englands.
Fighting for the final spot for New Englands could be a battle of the Southwestern NH with Keene and Mascenic being separated by 1 point. Both boasting a low stick in Kindopp and Vaillancourt respectively, this could play out similar to the aforementioned three team battle.
Not showing particularly well on paper regarding returnees, but certainly contenders will be Sanborn and Oyster River. The Bobcats of Oyster River, regardless of loss of the previous year’s graduating class, always finds a way to be competitive at the MOCs. Factor in the assuredly low sticks from O’Brien and Fleischer, one would be foolish to count them out. Sanborn is the new kid on the block in a sense as they were without the elder Khalil last year due to injury, so essentially they add 2 Khalils with the incoming freshman Tyson to Jared Khalil’s low stick from last year. Expect them to have at least 2-3 low numbers as a team. If they can find a solid 4th-5th scorers, they will be a force.