Division Favorites – Concord, Coe-Brown, Mascenic
Individuals to Watch – Torin Kindopp (Keene), Aidan Cox (Coe-Brown), Jared Khalil (Sanborn), Luke Brennan (Pinkerton), Patrick Gandini (Gilford), Tyler Sheedy (Dover), Nate Fondakowski (Bishop Guertin)
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, especially this year, with the pandemic impacting all facets of life. 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 and Meet of Champions were removed. Keep in mind, JV State Championships and Middle School State Championships were not held last year. This makes generating a preview all the more difficult, so if you know of anything you would like to add, please comment below. 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 2020 Divisional Championships at Derryfield, while times referred to in the MOC preview are from the 2020 MOCs.
I usually give deference to the defending champions when writing these previews based on the fact they’ve shown what it takes to get it done. However, the Monadnock Huskies lost five of their varsity athletes to graduation and if they want to be sitting atop the D3 heap they’re going to have to “load up the bus” if they’re going to be in the driver’s seat. They will be led by senior Mitchell Hill and sophomore Jace Joslyn, and if they find the appropriate support and get a good summer of training in, they could be mushing for their second title in a row and their third in six years.
The strongest returning squad, having lost only one senior, is Mascenic. Led by seniors Connor Traffie and Jethro Somero, and top ten junior Drew Traffie, the Viking’s might have what it takes to climb back to the top of the D3 heap. Both Connor and Drew led the 3200 meters this spring before Gilford’s Patrick Gandini threw off the gloves so the Traffie boys should be ready to roll. With support from junior Dom Cicchetti and sophomore Payton Vaillancourt, along with a new crop of freshmen in Isaac Carver, Logan Lucas, Jake Crawford and Kelson Whitehouse, a crew that won the Tri-County Championships, the Vikings might be ready to berserk the D3 ranks.
In addition to these two teams are both Conant and Hopkinton, both only losing two varsity members. Conant is slightly stronger through their five returning runners, led by seniors Ethan Vitello, Austin Poikenen and John Mormando, sophomores Alex Cummings and Austin Richards. Vitello and Poikenen are also utilized by the Orioles soccer team and at last year’s D3 championships, raced in the final race of the day at Derryfield Park, then joined their soccer teammates up the hill on the turf for a playoff game with Trinity. If they can maintain focus over the season, they could be in it.
Hopkinton was led last year by two freshmen in Ben Daniels and Matt Clarner, and while they graduated some senior leadership, they seem to be on the right track. With seniors Parker Wuellenweber and Abram Standefer, along with sophomore Conrad Mollano, the Hawks certainly could swoop in and steal the championship.
Lurking in the weeds is Newfound. Just missing out in a trip to Nashua South (last year only 4 teams qualified for MOCs), last year’s fifth place loses only it’s seventh runner, returning their scoring five. Led by seniors Connor Downs and Joe Sullivan, the Bears had the best pack time in D3s with 58 seconds separating the entire squad. If the entire squad advances (Evan Foster, Jeffrey Huckins, Ryder Downs and Ben LaPlume) over the summer, I’d expect Newfound to swipe a MOC berth.
As for individuals, expect Gilford’s Patrick Gandini to be the clear favorite. From freshman phenom to sophomore stud, dismantling defending champion Landen Vaillancourt at last year’s D3 championship, he’s the guy to watch. Conant’s Vitello is the next guy returning, and Hopkinton’s Daniels, Monadnock’s Hill, and Mascenic’s Traffie brothers and Somero are the guys under 18 last year.
Are the Division II boys teams in the midst of a rebuilding year? Absolutely not! It’s true, many of the state’s superstars have moved on, but as always, this has created an opportunity for the youth movement to step into the spotlight! With the craziness of last season (delayed start, time trials, intervals, masks??), and lack of Junior Varsity and Middle School Championships, this year is likely to have a ton of surprises.
#1: One thing that will come as a surprise to no one…Coe Brown is a powerhouse. Coe-Brown finished last year as the best team NH has ever seen. And despite graduating 4 of their top 7, the team has a group of harriers chomping at the bit to toe the line for the varsity squad. They’re going to be the team to beat in Division II! This crew will be led by track All-American superstar Aidan Cox (11, NH record 15:15), and last year’s varsity studs Lars Hogne (12, 16:12) and Jamie Lano (10, 16:57). With a program this deep, it can be a battle for those top 7 spots. Look for Tyler Tkazyck (4:44 – 1600, 10:00 – 3200) and Gavin Demas (11) to step up and show off the work they’ve been putting in behind the scenes the past couple of years.
#2: Hanover appears poised to take hold of the runner-up position. With a lack of invitationals, last year’s team snuck up on people…we don’t see that happening this time around. The Marauders return an incredible 5 of their top 6, including a tremendous 1-2 punch with Mack Levy (11, 16:36) and Sam Murray (12, 16:39). As the season winds down, look for Spencer May (12, 17:41), Luke Holmes (12, 18:03), and Caleb Zuckerman (10, 18:22) to close the gap. If Hanover can get their pack time down, they’re going to be very tough to beat!
#3: Oyster River may have lost their top dogs from the lead pack, but they will definitely be in the mix come championship season. The Bobcats return runners 3 – 6 from last year’s #5 finish. Those 4 runners were separated by a mere 20 seconds. If this young squad continues to progress like we’d expect them to, watch out!! Henry Hagan (11, 17:42) leads the way, followed closely by Keane Swiesz (11, 17:50) Dillon Labonte (11, 17:57) and Ethan Bessette (12, 18:02). If history holds, this team will no doubt have a handful of incoming freshmen who will look to make an immediate impact.
#4: Starting the season, Sanborn looks to be holding down the four spot. Up front, the team looks to build upon the low sticks of the remaining brothers Khalil: Jared (11, 16:05) and Tyson (10, 16:48). They also bring experience with last year’s fifth and sixth runners Gavin O’Connell (11, 18:37) and Jacob Thomas (12, 18:47) returning. Varsity competitors two years ago, Andrew Pugh (12, 18:36 in 2019) and Noah Cavallo (12, 18:47 in 2019) are back and will definitely be in the mix. If those guys can close the gap to the Khalils, Sanborn could make a run at one of the coveted top two spots!
#5: Coming off their best finish in school history, Windham looks to keep the momentum rolling. They’re starting the season at #5 on our list, but don’t be surprised to see them move up the ranks as this squad works into shape. At times overshadowed last year by the upperclassmen, this year is a different story for Michael Killian (12, 16:13). Killian was the difference maker for last year’s squad, as he quietly emerged as a low-key superstar, moving past Rai and Gonzalez and finishing his season 9th at MOC’s in 15:52! Add in steady improvement from Logan Carter (11, 17:16) and Braden Sanchez (12, 18:23), and the Jaguars have the makings of a solid squad that will no doubt make some noise at the end of October.
#6: Souhegan also looks to have an intriguing crew this season. The Sabers return 6 of 7 from last year’s team that advanced to the Meet of Champs. Despite (on paper) not having firepower at the front of the pack, they make up for it with depth! Kariso Anderson (11, 17:46) should lead the way, with Nolan Dickinson (12, 18:01), Josh Goddard (11, 18:18), Taloosh Anderson (10, 18:24), and Jaren Noorda (11, 18:43) following hot on his heels. As they always do, this team will make adjustments along the way and will be in a great position to punch their ticket to another MOC’s.
Wildcard: Based solely on last year’s divisional results, Con-Val looks to finish in the 7th position. However, last year’s team had as disjointed a season as any of us. They had split squad practices, were unable to compete during the regular season, and still somehow managed to pull off an incredible 7th place team finish at Divisionals. Given their depth, and front-runner Ian Post (12, 16:47), who knows what could happen this year at full strength.
Individually, Cox is obviously the favorite. Coming into the season as the state record holder at both Derryfield and Mines Falls, it’s going to be a thrill to see how fast he can go! That said, the battle for runner-up should be as good as any we’ve seen in recent years. Hogne, Killian, and Jared Khalil will definitely hammer the pace, but the boys from Hanover (Levy and Murray), along with Con-Val’s Post, Sanborn’s Tyson Khalil, and CBNA’s Lano will certainly make an honest race of it. We can’t wait to see what surprises NH Cross Country has in store this season.
Best of luck to everyone!
In the last eight years Division I has only seen two teams come away with championships with Pinkerton winning the first four and then Concord taking the next four. It’s been impressive to watch these two teams dominate the scene so the big question is, will we see someone new on the podium this year? We’re going to do our best to dive into the data but with the weird structure of last year it’s certainly more of a guess than usual but we can at least lean into the data we do have.
Concord has three returners in the top 10 with Zachary Hooper at third, Sam Hilts at fifth, and John Murphy in eighth and that seems like a good recipe for taking home championship number five. The challenge with most of the teams this year is figuring out people who will fill in the spots of the varsity kids who graduated. Normally, we can use the JV races from the invitationals and JV states to fill in these holes. This year, that data doesn’t exist. I even tried looking at the duel meets to get an idea of who could be there, but none of them provided the year of graduation for the runners so it wasn’t any help. Now, one of Concord’s biggest strengths during this four year streak has been not just a strong varsity but an entire team of strong runners. Losing four varsity runners would really hurt most teams, but if there’s a squad who should be fine, it’s Concord. They still look like the team to beat.
#2 Bishop Guertin
If there’s a team that’s going to bump Concord off this year, it’s Bishop Guertin. Why? They return their entire varsity squad! Not only that, they have a guy who should compete for the Division I Individual Championship in Nate Fondakowski and his teammate Sebastian Zeman looking like a top ten guy. The best news for Bishop Guertin is that their three through five runners look primed to be top 25 guys for the division as well and that makes for a nice low score. If Concord struggles at all to find their 4-5 runners then Bishop Guertin should be well positioned to take their first podium in a decade.
#3 Pinkerton Academy
Throwing a total wrench in the mix last year, Pinkerton didn’t get to finish the season. Thankfully, I work there so I have a pretty good idea what they’re working with! Luke Brennan is a top three guy for sure and Ethan Charles is likely a top 10 finisher. It gets a little more dicey after but they have a group of other runners that I think can fill in the spots after that. Watch for Jack Cameron, Theo Davis and Finn Christensen-Kraft to battle for that third spot.
Londonderry is another team with a dynamic top two in Sean Clegg and Ryan Fortin who should both be top ten finishers. Will Plante coming in the top 20 has them competitive with the top teams but then they’re heavily into the question marks after losing their number four to an injury over the summer. They’re coming off a runner up in 2020 and are frequently one of the top teams in the JV Championship race, so their chances of filling in those fourth and fifth spots seems good but can they compete with the teams ahead of them?
Exeter is a team to keep an eye on with a strong top two in Matthew Allen and Ben Webber who will likely finish in the top ten of the division. Additionally, Brennan Gregoire their third runner is a top twenty-five returner. They’ve got a bit of a gap after that, but if any of their other runners can step in to fill in the gap that strong top three give them a great chance of keeping their score low.
#6 Nashua North
Nashua North comes in more with the depth side of the equation. Their top two of Matthew Robert and Robert Canaway look like strong contenders for top 20 in the division and Connor Dowling is just outside of the top twenty five. With two other varsity returners they have the returning depth that most of the other teams wish they had.
The Individual Championship
Some years before the season starts it seems like there’s someone who’s the obvious pick to take the individual win but this year there’s a list of guys who look primed to take the battle right to the finish line.
Our top returner from last year is Dover’s Tyler Sheedy, who earned that honor by taking fifth in a difficult and snowy D1 championship race. He went out with the leaders and battled right to the end with the graduating seniors. The next one to watch is Fondakowski, who used an aggressive start to try and get himself away from the speedy Eben Bragg and while he fell back in the second half, really held together well. The next two runners I’ll be keeping an eye on are guys who didn’t get to race last year. Pinkerton’s Brennan started out last season strong with a competitive race against Londonderry’s top runners and looked primed to be in the championship mix. Keene’s Torin Kindopp also had a strong start to his season even setting a course record in one of the early races. Having these two back competing should make things interesting for the other returners.
Some other returners to watch are Hooper and Hilts from Concord along with Clegg and Fortin from Londonderry. Those four guys were separated by less than 10 seconds from one another and were not far back from the leaders. Sometimes early in the season we can see if runners made a big leap forward over the last year, so keep an eye on these four to see if they’re ready to contend for the win.
Meet of Champions
Last year, Coe-Brown’s performance at Meet of Champions was historical. A 15:40 team average, placing 3 in the top 5 and 5 in the top 14 to score a scant 29 points; not to mention their #1 breaking the state record. This team performance may never be seen again. Keep in mind, the 2020 MOCs was it. The last race of the season period. No New Englands, no Nike Cross Regionals. Individuals and teams emptied their bank accounts and it produced. For Coe-Brown, it produced a #8 National Ranking at season’s end. Although really cool, we cannot expect this in
Usually the year following that level of performance which involved 4 seniors, the next year sees a drop-off. However, looking solely at returners for this meet, Coe-Brown continues to be in the thick of it. They obviously have the top returner with Aidan Cox but don’t over look the fact they have Hogne and Lano who are the #7 and #17 returners respectively. Add in the aforementioned Tyler Tkaczyk and Demas, the Bears have a shot at the win again.
Team success at MOC’s depends on how many harriers a squad can place in the top 25. Based on their returners and the depth of their program, it looks as if Concord should be a contender as well. On paper they are led by Sam Hilts who is the 9th returner, but 20th returner John Murphy had a breakout spring track season so watch for him to be much further up the rankings. He will be flanked by fellow senior Zachary Hooper.
As mentioned in the D1 preview, the team returning the most from 2020 is Bishop Guertin. They will have the low stick in Fondakowski and another returner in the top 10 in Sebastian Zeman. So it will depend on their 3-4-5 of Girata, O’Neill and Warren. Within the top 40 of returners on paper, if they can crack the top 25, the Cardinal could be the best in NH come season’s end.
Although the Lancers of Londonderry had Griffin and Young matriculate, their cupboard is certainly not bare. With Fortin and Clegg leading the way as the #8 and #11 returners, along with senior Will Plante as the #22 returner, Londonderry has the foundation to build upon. If Cole Borovicka can close the gap to Plante and pull their eventual #5 with them, the Lancers can be in business and should make New Englands.
Remember top 6 teams qualify to represent NH at New Englands and although Pinkerton did not compete much in 2020, they are a perennial favorite to grab one of those qualifying slots as well. Led by Brennan, who assuredly will crack the top 5 to 7, count on the Astros to continue the Long Red Line to Thetford.
Also challenging should be Windham. Although Rai and Gonzalez have graduated, the emergence of Michael Killian as the number 3 NH returner along with the continued development of Carter gives the Jaguars 2 in the top 15 at least. Sanborn is another D2 team to watch as the Khalil brothers once again lead them. If Jared can snag and top 5 finish and Tyson can crack the top 10, they are in a similar position as Windham. Then we look at Hanover, who return the most from D2. Keep in mind Sam Murray did not compete at MOCs last year, so their team place on paper is skewed. Murray and May should crack the top 15. If their 3-4-5 can continue to develop they can see themselves right in the thick of it to try to have the shortest trip to New Englands.
Mascenic, D3’s apparent best on paper, should not be counted out either. Coach Smith has the knack of utilizing the entire season to prepare his squads. And surveying his returning nucleus, we see very familiar last names. Mascenic has built a strong tradition as one of NH’s best. Look for them to be in the thick of things by November.
Individually, the favorite is obviously CBNA’s Aidan Cox. Not sure if we should expect a blazing fast time this year though. Keep in mind that last year was it. The MOCs was the final XC race on the schedule. This year, if all goes according to plan, it will be the week before New Englands, where he should be going against a few of the best runners in the country. One would think that would be his focus and use MOCs as a final tune-up. And although this seems to be the case, there will be quite the battle for the top 10. Look for names like Gandini, Kindopp, Sheedy, Fondakowski Brennan and Khalil to comprise the first chase pack. The second pack could see names like Hogne, Fortin, Hilts, Murphy, Zeman and Clegg, but don’t be surprised to see any one of these names sneak into that front pack.
Regardless, last year’s MOCs put NH’s talent on display. Look for the same this year! Good luck to all and stay healthy!