Last night I found myself on a hot stuffy bus ride to the hamlet of Hinsdale, for preseason scrimmage along the banks of the Ashuelot River. We’re back for the first time in two years due to both the pandemic, along with the fact that my good friend Glenn Hammett is back at the helm of the program. While some schools in our division skip out on this opportunity for some early season action, either because they feel it’s too early to be racing or are seeking “more competitive opportunities” to prepare them for the upcoming season, we’ve always looked at this opportunity to stretch our legs in a no risk situation, to bust off the rust and begin to develop our identity as a team. And while the atmospheric conditions were not conducive to competitive running with the heat index hovering just below 99 when we arrived, we would see how our summer training (or lack of it) was going to play out on the grassy one mile loop in the most southwest corner of the state.
Dubbed the Nitehawk Classic, as the early season event date usually coincides with the annual Nitehawk migration (a 12,000 mile flight from northern Canada to Brazil), we were still lucky enough to catch the stragglers headed south as the meet was postponed six days so the district could nail down their covid protocols for the upcoming school year. So as the sweltering summer day turned to a warm summer evening, and the last handful of nitehawks turned south, members of the Mascenic and Hinsdale girls team headed out on the two loop, two mile course to gain a measure of where their fitness was.
Out to an early lead on the first loop, Hinsdale’s Fleury opened a 70 meter gap on the Mascenic quintet of Emma Schaumloffel, Skye Lambert, Victoria Smith, Amelia Smith and Brielle Shippee. I had given the girls instructions that I wanted them to run together as a pack for the first loop, keeping the group intact in the early stages, practicing team racing that can help us out come end of the season. Once through the mile mark, in just over 8 minute pace, they had the green light to set out on their own. This works well for me as I can gauge their fitness by how much change there is in their second lap; however the evening’s temperatures were going to make interpretation a bit more difficult.
But as the ladies came back into view, I had Lambert being closely tracked by Schaumloffel at the front, with a gap back to Hinsdale’s Fleury who was tracked by Victoria Smith, with a gap back to Amelia Smith and Shippee, who were rolling together. And while there was a gap back to our sixth girl, Florrie Schaumloffel as she’s coming back from injury, she was in a nice battle with Hinsdale’s Paige L., which she ended up winning as a testament to all the hard work she put in since last cross country season. All in all a solid run all around, with our six in the top seven.
I had counseled my guys similarly, setting up two different groups that I wanted to see working together through the first lap. As the men came into view, things were playing out as I was hoping with Connor and Drew Traffie pacing teammate Ryan O’Shea through the mile in just under six minute pace before letting loose and seeing what fitness gains they had made over the ensuing year. My second group headed by Dom Cicchetti and Payton Vaillancourt was shepherding my new batch of freshmen around, helping keep the lid on initially, before breaking for the finish as well.
The second lap would exact it’s pound of flesh though, as those that were able to find the opportunity to get their summer training were less affected by the conditions and first taste of the hammer being dropped. Drew Traffie would round the final turn with 200 meters to go in the lead being tracked by his brother Connor, looking to snipe him in the finishing straight. I relished this scenario as Connor has been his own training group his entire career, not quite up to running with Landen but too fast for everyone else. Last night and last spring’s track season has shown he has a new training partner. The Traffie brothers (sound like a country folk band doesn’t it?) ran a fantastic negative split, with Connor outdueling Drew through the finishing chute. Next in was O’Shea, with a not too big gap back to new freshman and my next door neighbor Logan Lucas, closely followed by Cicchetti. Vaillancourt rolled in next followed in by Dylan Buttrick to finish up our “varsity” seven. Hinsdale’s Calderwood would be next in, fending off a great battle with Mascenic’s sidewinding freshman Kelson Whitehouse.
As the early evening skies turned shades of pink and orange and my crew went out on cooldown, I was able to reflect on both the performances of the evening, as well as the history of the event. We started coming to Hinsdale at the demise of the Londonderry Jamboree and my desire for an early season competition that wasn’t 5K in distance. That way the kids can’t compare their last race from the season before with their first race this season. In the ensuing years, I’ve built a friendship with Glenn based on our mutual respect for each other as coaches and with how as coaches of teams from small rural districts, we battle many of the same issues both in our professional lives as teachers and the often underfunded, under appreciated nature of the sport we love to coach.
I can’t recall how many years we’ve been attending the Nitehawk Classic. It’s been long enough to see teams seek other competitive opportunities and for me to remember all the multiple twists and turns we make on the back road, small town New Hampshire pilgrimage we make every year. This year we were down to just us and Hinsdale.
But regardless of the number of competitors on the course (and the long grass on the finishing straight!) we were able to get everything we would want from this competitive opportunity, and as long as Glenn keeps hosting, we’ll keep coming. Like they say, birds of a feather flock together. Thanks to the Hinsdale crew for another great Nitehawk Classic.