On a day fit for both racing and spectating, the 2021 Meet of Champions was practically a polar opposite (as it often is) of last week’s Divisional meets. With bright sunshine as opposed to endless rain, the mid fifty temperature made it easy for racers to drop their sweats in the team area as opposed to keeping them on right up until gun time. Additionally the cooler drier temperatures of the week had the course in much better shape making it a much different racing experience than the slippery rain soaked course at Derryfield Park.
From the gun, Marykate Finn of Bishop Guertin looked to use home field advantage and gapped the field by a little bit by the 1000 meter mark. In hot pursuit was Portsmouth Christian’s Brianna Malone and Dover’s Brooke Marshall, and behind them a swarm of Who’s Who of girls distance racing in New Hampshire. Finn would apply pressure the whole way, with Malone working to bridge the gap. Souhegan’s Chloe Trudel would make her way up to Marshall, who was now about 30 meters in arrears after the 2000 meter mark.
Coming back along the canal, Finn still had half a step on Malone, who was desperately trying to hang on
while Finn was desperately trying to run her off. Trudel was working hard to try to bridge the gap but instead it was growing. Trudel and Marshall rolled through the 3000 meter mark about 60 meters down on the leading trio. At this time the chase pack started to get whittled down with Bedford’s Fiona Lee and Oyster River’s Mackenzie Cook bringing Concord’s Alina Pincoske, Merrimack Valley’s Sophia Reynolds and Cook’s teammate Haley Kavanaugh with her. Bishop Brady’s Katie Palmeteer was a bit in no man’s land looking to bridge up to the chase pack.
As Finn led Malone back into the fields and out of mine Falls, they had opened even more of a gap, yawning to about 80 meters, setting up for a duel over the final 1000 meters into the finish. Finn would lead the majority of this loop but Malone with a devastating kick was still too close for comfort. Over the final few hundred meters would put 8 seconds on Finn, winning in 18:03 to Finn’s 18:11. Trudel would have the fastest last 1000 meters but would not catch the leaders, finishing in 18:22 with Marshall in tow. Lee would finish fifth, with Reynolds, Cook, Pincoske, Kavanaugh and Palmeteer rounding out the top ten.
Rounding out the top twenty-five to qualify for New Englands were Bow’s Maya Brochu, Exeter’s Ali MacFarland, Keene’s Hannah Shepard, Concord’s Molly Nyhan, Coe-Brown’s Sheldyn Fisher, Souhegan’s Stephanie Svendsen, Hopkinton’s Hannah Bennett, Winnacunnet’s Charlotte Koutaldis, Dover’s Isabel McIntyre, Pinkerton’s Isabelle Groulx and Contessa Silva, Concord’s Shelly Smith, Exeter’s Caitlin Murphy,
Bedford’s Sophia Mooney, Nashua North’s Laura White.
In the team racing, Dover’s Green Wave would top all others, buoyed by Marshall’s three points, “winning” with 107 points. Oyster River’s youth movement would win out for second, with 123 points, over Keene in third with 124 points. Concord was fourth with 128 points, Bishop Guertin in fifth with 143 points, and Hopkinton finishing sixth in a nail biter, 159 points over Souhegan’s 160 points to earn the last New England berth.
Noteworthy, the perfect conditions coupled with a ‘normal’ season certainly yielded some incredible results as the top 14 ran under the 19:00 barrier as well as 48 under 20:00. Granted last year was an incredibly compromised season with temps in the 70s – not perfect at all. Last year only 3 broke 19:00 with only the top 25 under 20:00. So one has to look at 2019, the last normal year. 2 years ago, 18 athletes broke 19:00 with 52 going under 20:00. Yes XC is back to normal!
Mirroring the start of the girls race, BG’s Nate Fondakowski wasted no time to move to point in his usual front running style. By 1000 meters he was clearly in the lead, with Coe-Brown’s Aidan Cox and Gilford’s Patrick Gandini in tow. The chase pack was made up of Keene’s Torin Kindopp and Jonathan Hills, Lebanon’s Berhanu Harriman, Dover’s Tyler Sheedy, and Concord’s Sam Hilts and Zachary Hooper. Streaming off the back of this pack was Coe-Brown’s Lars Hogne, Tyler Tkaczyk and Jamie Lano, Jared and Tyson Khalil and BG’s Sean O’Keefe and Matthew Giardina.
By 2000 meters, Fondakowski was joined at the front by Cox, with Gandini right in their back pockets. Kindopp would soon assume position at the front of the chase pack, looking to bridge up to the leaders. However, Cox started his long push for home once officially in Mine Falls. By 3000 meters Cox was firmly in the lead, his long silky stride putting distance between his pursuers and himself every step. Gandini had pulled up on Fondakowski and was trying to go by, but Fondakowski would match him along the canals and back into the athletic fields.
With 4000 meters to go Cox was winning going away with Gandini working hard to open a gap back to Fondakowski and the chase pack. Kindopp, having strung out the chase pack and was making ground back on Fondakowski over the field section, looking to bridge up to Gandini. The chase pack was jockeying for position for the final run into the finishing straight.
In a time that might seem underwhelming this year, Cox would stop the clock in 15:01, now owning the two fastest times run on the Mine Falls course. Kindopp, with probably the best closing speed in the field, gunned down the great Gandini in the end, finishing second and third. Luke Brennan of Pinkerton ran a patient race and it paid off, finishing fourth, with Harriman landing in the fifth spot. Hopper, Sheedy, Fondakowski, Hogne and Jared Khalil would round out the top ten.
The top twenty-five and qualifying for New Englands were Hills, Hilts, O’Keefe, Tyson Khalil, Londonderry’s Sean Clegg, Giardina, Tkaczyk, Londonderry’s Ryan Fortin, Concord’s John Murphy, Lano, Exeter’s Matthew Allen, Hanover’s Spencer May, Dover’s Jeremiah Payeur, Pinkerton’s Ethan Charles and Oyster River’s Dillon Labonte.
The team race was full of things I’ve never seen before. First off, Bishop Guertin would win in a tiebreaker, 75 to 75, with their sixth runner finishing with 40 team points to Coe-Brown’s 51 team points. We need to do our research to see if has ever happened before in the history of the meet. Concord (117) and Pinkerton (147) would finish third and fourth. Second off, traditionally the sixth team score is usually around 160 to 170 team points, but this year in fifth was Hanover with 201
points over Londonderry with 202 points. Also incredibly Londonderry beat out Windham and Sanborn for the last New England spot, who finished 7th and 8th with 203 points each. Parity certainly breeds competition and excitement for us fans!!!
To note, this is the first time (according to Larry Martin) that the three individual winners from the Divisional meets would finish in the 1-2-3 position IN BOTH THE GIRLS RACE AND THE BOYS RACE!
Also as with the girls race, the perfect conditions coupled with a ‘normal’ season certainly yielded some incredible results as the top 16 ran under the 16:00 barrier. Granted last year was an incredibly compromised season with temps in the 70s – not perfect at all. Last year only 11 broke 16:00. So one has to look at 2019, the last normal year. 2 years ago, 20 athletes broke 16:00.
To close, obviously a great deal of thanks to Nashua South for hosting along with the NHIAA. Annually, their community puts in the great effort to prepare the course and be incredible hosts. Hats off to their coaching staff, athletic department and admin along with amazing volunteers! A championship NH style!