By Mike Smith
I can’t remember exactly when Mascenic started attending the then known Belmont Invitational. It was a while ago for sure. I remember sitting once in the gym and other times crammed into the cafeteria, watching other teams from the North Country and Lakes Region clean house with the awards. I remember Guor Majak and Concord running there. I remember Nate Sans and St. Paul running there. I remember Andrea Walkonen and Conant running there. And I remember thinking that some day I wanted to have my kids names and teams among the “winners” running the Belmont Invitational.
Fast forward almost twenty years, the Mascenic squads have been able to carve out a name for themselves at Belmont. Now titled the Jeri Blair (Belmont) Invitational, after their beloved and retired girls coach the aforementioned Jeri Blair, who still makes a guest appearance to hand out the race packets. Reviewing the welcome letter I noticed three former Vikings are listed among the top ten times on the course. We’ve had numerous individual and team champions over the years and we view the race and the course a great test piece before heading into the championship season
This year is no different for us. After the pandemic hiatus last year we eagerly anticipate running in the 40th version of the race. Well at least I do, the course being more difficult on my athletes than it is on me. And with Scott Clark and John Goegel running the show, we know this meet will be an efficient one.
This year’s version sees the participation of 16 teams, and with the exception of Sanborn and Bow, is entirely from the Division 3 ranks. With the Thetford Trail Run the following day, a number of schools have elected to cross the state line to get the experience with Morty’s monster and the New England course. While we always try to have New England aspirations, we would never forsake the Jeri Blair or it’s own “monster” of a hill athletes get to experience twice.
Leading the charge on the girls front should be Hopkinton. Ranked in the top ten and the first team from New Hampshire in third overall at last weekend’s Manchester Invitational, I expect the Hawks to swoop in and snag this one. I like the matchup for runner up between the Falcons of Bow and the Golden Eagles of Gilford, Bow getting the upper hand at Manchester. Could the podium be filled with our flocked friends? Can my girls squad rise to the challenge and upend what I see as the potential top three? Time will tell.
As for individual bragging rights I’ll be looking to the showdown between Gilford’s Cat Stow, Bow’s Maya Brochu and Bishop Brady’s Katie Palmeter. I’ve seen these girls race this fall and their go-for-broke solo efforts should look pretty cool once they run shoulder to shoulder. Also don’t discount the ladies from Hopkinton in Hannah Bennett, Shaylee Murdough and Cailey Stockwell. Monadnock’s Alyssa Hall can’t be overlooked and our own Skye Lambert has been running well when she stays shod and on course.
As for the boys, Sanborn deserves the nod as a top ten ranked team. Led by the killer Khalil brothers, the crew from Kingston will be looking for the upper hand over my squad. I also assume my Vikings will have target squarely attached to their backs, per usual, as a threat to the D3 title. I also expect to see Gilford, Hopkinton and Newfound in a battle for the top spots in the boys race as well.
Individually I see Patrick Gandini of the Golden Eagles dive bombing into a very fast opening pace, with the ever dangerous Jared and Tyson Khalilof Sanborn more than willing to be in hot pursuit, just like we saw last weekend at Manchester. Beyond that I see a strong pack made up of Ben Daniels and Matt Clarner of Hopkinton, Aidan Palmeter of Trinity, Jace Joslyn and Austin Hills of Monadnock, Mitchell and Alden Townsend of Gilford, and my own Traffie brothers (Connor and Drew.)
And of course for both races and individual and team champions, there are always athletes and teams lurking in the weeds. With little to go off of from last year and seemingly less results available than last year, there are teams and individuals I haven’t seen yet. Wouldn’t it be fitting for someone to step forward at Belmont and stamp themselves as a contender with a month to go.
Good luck to the teams and athletes competing on October 1st.