By Dave Irving
Thursday, October 21st marks the return of one of the oldest meets in the state, the Capital Area Championships. Held at several different venues over the years, the 2021 edition marks the 44th running and the 9th consecutive one held at Merrimack Valley. With delayed autumn leaves, an unusually low crop of acorns rolling around on the course, and temperatures forecast in the balmy 70’s, Mother Nature seems to have given the meet a year of reprieve from the normal gale-force winds and torrential rain that accompany the meet. Also giving the race a slightly different feel is the lack of participation from local private schools, due to COVID precautions. The competition for bragging rights in the Capital region will still be fierce, however, with schools from all three divisions (and one rogue outsider) competing for the headlines.
In traditional Capital Area style, the boys race will kick off the varsity races. Concord, currently ranked #3 in the state, should easily check off their 5th consecutive team win. Led by Zachary Hooper and John Murphy at the recent Black Bear Invitational, Capital Area will hopefully see the return of Sam Hilts, Concord’s top runner at Thetford a couple weeks ago. Falling out of the state rankings from a previous 10th spot, but looking to show they do belong in the conversation is Bow. Led by Michael Pelletier at Black Bear, they also seemed to be missing a couple top runners in Adem Aricanli and Lincoln Routheir. If those two return, they should keep Concord from running away untested. After those two top teams it’s anybody’s guess, although astute observers of DIII should have noticed that Newfound has quietly been climbing the ranks of their division. Also, courtesy of an inadvertent invitation, an out-of-”Cap Area” team will be making an appearance for the first time, Conant. The top DIII team at Manchester on the merges, it will be interesting to see the race-within-the race of DIII contenders.
Individually, undefeated Patrick Gandini of Gilford can be considered the favorite to improve one spot on his 2nd place finish two years ago. However, if Concord’s Hilts is healthy and running, it will be a great race to witness. Hilts would be going for the unprecedented double; two years ago in the most recent edition of the race he won…the JV race. This year he was third at Thetford and only one second off Gandini’s pace at Manchester, in a different race. Could we see Forest MacKenzie’s course record of 15:56 go down? Could we see Gilford crown it’s first ever boys champion? There are other contenders in the race, of course. Concord’s Cooper (2nd at Black Bear) and Murphy (3rd in JV two years ago) will certainly be in the front pack. Also looking to compete for a top ten finish will be Pelletier of Bow, along with his previously mentioned teammates should they be running, Conant’s Ethan Vitello, Hopkinton’s Ben Daniels, and Newfound’s Connor Downs.
With the sun getting low on Penacook’s horizon, it will be the girls turn to navigate the technical trails of MV. Unlike the boys, the girls don’t have a true favorite with two teams ranked in the top ten in the state. Hopkinton, currently ranked #3, has been torching the trails recently and making DIII proud. Led by Hannah Bennett, Shaylee Murdough, Anna O’Reily, and Cailey Stockwell, they will be looking for their first win since 2011 at Capital Area. Don’t overlook Concord, however, who like the boys are possibly under-rated at 6th in the state. While they placed third at the recent Black Bear race, they didn’t have their top runner from Thetford, Anna Pincoske. Add Molly Nyhan (4th at Capital Area in 2019) and Shelly Smith, that is a tough top three to beat. After the obvious top two, it will again be anyone’s guess for the last team spot on the podium. Bow, led by individual contender Mya Brochu, and Conant look to be the teams to watch for that spot.
Individually, there is no clear-cut favorite, although Bishop Brady’s Katie Palmateer will be given that distinction here, thanks to her recent wins at Lakes Region and Belmont Invites. Brochu, fresh off a top-5 finish at Black Bear, could be considered a co-favorite. The three Concord girls, Hopkinton’s Bennett, Gilford’s Catherine Stowe, Kearsarge’s Molly Ellison, and Merrimack Valley’s Sophia Reynolds will all look to place well and ensure that the racing is fair and fast.