By Mike Smith
Qualified Teams: Keene, Oyster River, Concord, Dover, Souhegan, Hopkinton, Bedford, Winnacunnet, Exeter, Bishop Guertin, Coe Brown, Kennett, Monadnock, Bow, Windham, Conant, Newmarket Campbell
Of the eighteen teams competing, only one third of them will qualify for New Englands. Trying to sort through the fields, while run on the same day at the same place, it’s safe to say these three races were run on very different courses at last week’s NHIAA NH Division Championships . Coaching during the first race, and commentating during the second and third girls races, I was able to witness the deteriorating conditions. Let’s try to clear away the chaff.
The top three teams coming out of the merge are separated by thirty (OK, 31) points and considering individuals from teams not qualifying are in there, the results are much closer than that. Leading the charge is Keene, led by Hannah Shepard. The Blackbirds have an 80 second spread between their scoring runners. Their top four is as good as anyone’s, and if there is a vulnerability, it’s the gap back to their fifth runner. Expect the girls from Keene to be flocking near the front.
Slotted into second off the merge is Oyster River. Led by Mackenzie Cook and Haley Kavanagh (# 4 and #6 individually in the merge), the Bobcats sport the fastest average from last weekend. Their top four are just as formidable as the aforementioned Keene, so expect those two teams to marking each other with OR looking to pounce on every opportunity..
Concord should be in the mix for the top spot as well. The Tide led by Alina Pincoske, Molly Nyhan and Shelley Smith, have the best three coming out of the merge (and the third best average time), so if they can get things going, they should be in the hunt as well. With the strong gravitational pull, the girls from Concord could get it done.
After that, Dover sits 30 points in arrears of Concord off the merge. The Green Wave have been building to a crescendo all season. Led by Brooke Marshall and Isabel McIntyre, if the scoring five can tighten up their spread they can look to make a splash for the podium.
The next two teams sit another 30 points (OK, 29) back in Souhegan and Hopkinton. It seems the Sabers were a bit surprised by the Bobcats last weekend, but I expect them to regroup and come in with a different game plan this time. Led by Chloe Trudel, the Sabers need to get a closer grouping from their support staff if they are going to scratch their way into contention.
Hopkinton, the class of Division 3 comes slotted in at the six spot from the merge but I expect the Hawks to be looking to swoop in and snag a top five spot. Led by Hannah Bennett and Shaylee Murdough, the Hawks won the D3 title by 61 points and are ready to mix it up against the larger schools. I expect they’ll be out hard from the start, looking for the strength of their pack to carry the day.
And finally the last team to average under 21 minutes at Divisionals is Bedford. Led by Fiona Lee the Bulldogs will really need to release the hounds if they are to push for a top spot at Meet of Champions, as their spread for the scoring five is over 2 minutes. Look for them to bite down hard in an attempt to finish in the top five.
Other teams looking to crack the top five (and move on to New Englands) is Winnacunnet, Exeter, and Bishop Guertin. Winnacunnet has a low pack time but no one providing them a low stick. BG has that low stick in Mary Kate Finn but drop off a bit after that. And Exeter falls in the middle of that with a bit more up front power than Winnacunnet but not enough support through five to come ranked ahead of the Warriors. If any of the aforementioned seven teams do not make New Englands, expect the spoiler to come from this group.
Individually, expect each of the Divisional winners in Souhegan’s Trudel, BG’s Finn of Portsmouth Christian’s Brianna Malone to be in that front pack. Filling out the chase pack should be OR’s Cook and Kavanaugh, Bedford’s Lee, Dover’s Marshall, Keene’s Shepard and Reagan Hoy, Bishop Brady’s Katie Palmeteer, Concord’s Pincoske, Nyhan and Smith, Merrimack Valley’s Sophia Reynolds and Hopkinton’s Bennett.
Qualified Teams: Coe Brown, Bishop Guertin, Concord, Pinkerton, Windham, Hanover, Londonderry, Oyster River, Exeter, Keene, Sanborn, Bow, Nashua South, Mascneic, Newfound, Monadnock, Fall Mountain, Conant
Coming off the merge, two teams stand head and shoulders better than the rest. Coe Brown and Bishop Guertin are almost 60 points up on the rest of the field and should be battling for state supremacy. Coe-Brown holds a slight edge, with better upfront scoring than the Cardinal, coming from the top returner and defending champion Aidan Cox. With support from Lars Hogne, Tyler Tkaczyk and Jamie Lano, the Bears look to disembowel the field from the front. Their success rests on their #5 Gavin Demas, who stepped up big last week.
The Cardinal, led by Nate Fondakowski, are better through five, so expect the sparks to fly from the starting gun. Fondakowski likes to get after it right away, and at Mines Falls I’m sure he feels right at home. With support from Matthew Giardina, Sean O’Keefe Joshua Rivers and Sebastian Zeman, I expect to see green kits shadowing red kits all along the canals of Mine Falls.
The team sixty points back is Concord. With arguably one of the best trio this year in Zach Hooper, Sam Hilts and John Murphy, Murphy had an uncharacteristically bad day last week, so I expect them to finish closer to the front, but can they catch a rising tide and overcome CB or BG? We’ll see.
Another 36 points back is Pinkerton. The Astros, led by Luke Brennan and Ethan Charles, will look to finish near the front to help their chances of securing a New England berth. With good runs by their #3 through #5, Pinkerton could find itself among the stars.
The last team averaging under 17:30 from last weekend is Windham. I had wondered how the Jaguars would fare after the leadership of Rohan Rai and Trey Gonzalez left, but Michael Killian has aptly taken up that mantle. With support from Logan Carter and Baxter Gower-Hall, the Jags will be trying to slash their way into a top three spot.
Looking for that last New England berth should be Hanover, Londonderry and Oyster River. Hanover should be in the driver’s seat, with the best five of the group. Led by Spencer May, the maroon and white look to raid one of the top six spots. Londonderry best one-two punch of the group in Ryan Fortin and Sean Clegg, but have a gap back to #3 and then a gap back to #5. Expect them to be jousting with Hanover and Oyster River for that last spot. Oyster River has no front runners but is solid through their top four, led by Dillon Labonte. Regardless of how they perform at Divisionals, they seem to always have a knack for bouncing back and running Mines Falls extremely well. The Bobcats will be looking to scratch their way into the top six.
Individually we should see some great battles as in some ways it’s the field against CBNA’s Cox. It certainly would be a feather in one’s cap to do so. I expect the other divisional winners to be itching to do so and I think we’ll see Keene’s Torin Kindopp and Gilford’s Patrick Gandini to be mirroring Cox’s every move. Gandini will need to “get away” if he is to prevail over the sub 15 man in Cox and the super fast closer in Kindopp.
Behind them expect to see Lebanon’s Birhanu Harriman, Concord’s Hilts and Hooper, Keene’s Jonathan Hills, BG’s Fondakowski, Windham’s Killian and Carter, the Killer Khalil’s (Jared and Tyson) of Sanborn, Hogne, Tkaczyk and Lano of Coe Brown and Dover’s “IT’S SHEEDY!”