By Scott Bliss
After a two-year hiatus the New England Cross Country Championships returned back in full force at Thetford Academy on Saturday. Luckily we didn’t have a repeat of Friday’s weather and it was a beautiful fall day to go racing. Even with parts of the course a complete mudfest, it didn’t slow down some amazing individual performances and some great team racing. Spectators got to witness two of the best performances ever on the Thetford Academy course. Gavin Sherry (CT) and Ruth White (ME) had dominating individual victories in their respective races to post some of the top times ever run on the course. On the team side there was the tight racing that was expected with the U-32(VT) boys winning their first ever New England title, and second ever for the state of VT, and New Milford(CT) winning their first New England title also.
This race came in as the battle of Connecticut individuals and did it ever live up to the hype. On the team side it was a battle of about 4-5 possible teams that had a legitimate shot at winning the title. The excitement for the boys race was warranted as Gavin Sherry put in one of the best performances ever for a male runner at Thetford and the team battle was as good as we expected with a tie breaker determining 2nd and 3rd place. And when it was all said and done the little Green Mountain state showed that they would have something to say about the team title on its home turf.
As the boys descended down to the 1k mark it was a huge pack of runners still together. The first downhill K tends to keep the pack together until they start to climb out from the lowest part of the course back up to the start line area again. The 2nd K is where the movement will start to happen and it was no different for this boys race. At about the 2k mark all of the contenders were still together. Sherry(CT) was leading the way followed by his twin brother Callum Sherry(CT), Aidan Puffer(CT), Devan Kipyego(RI), Michael Bohlke(CT), Aidan Cox(NH) and Evan Thorton-Sherman(VT). After this lead group, the race had already begun to spread out and the team race was almost impossible to guess who had an advantage at this point. U-32(VT), Bishop Hendricken(RI), La Salle (RI) and Ridgefield(CT) all looked to be in the hunt which was expected.
At the 3k mark Gavin Sherry and Puffer were just starting to pull away from Callum Sherry by a few seconds. The gap back to the next pack of three had stretched out a bit. This was where the first sign of significant movement in the pack started to be seen. La Salle came through with their first two but U-32 was right there with them and the U-32 #3 man had a bit of a gap on the other teams 3rd runners. Bishop Hendricken got their first 5 through first, but again U-32 was staying in contention as they headed to Morty’s Monster. The team race was going to be decided on the Monster as it should be!
At the top of Morty’s Gavin Sherry extended his lead to 6 seconds over Puffer, who had put a bit of a gap on Callum Sherry. The chase pack contained the same characters as at the 3k mark and they had pretty much formed a 4 person group at this point of the race. U-32 was the first team with 3 through. La Salle and Hendricken were still in touch but Ollie Hanson, the U-32 3rd, was definitely looking like he could make a big difference in this race. Hendricken got their 5-7 in ahead of the U-32 5th, but Sargent Burns(U-32 #5) had made a pretty impressive move up Morty’s to significantly close that gap.
After the runners crest Morty’s they enter the section of the course with steep downs and ups like a roller coaster and Gavin Sherry decided to fly away at this point. He increased his lead on Puffer to 12 seconds. With the twist and turns in this part of the course, he was also out of Puffer’s sight which would make it much harder for Puffer to come back to him. Callum Sherry was still holding down the 3rd spot but the chase group was starting to gain some momentum. Aidan Cox led a group of Bohlke, Thornton-Sherman and Anthony. U-32 had seized the race at this point and just needed to finish out the last 1k of the race. The brothers Carson and Austin Beard had themselves placed in All New England spots for U-32 and Hansen had created a gap between himself and all of the other contenders’ 3rd runners. Now the question was if their 4th and 5th would close it out.
At the line Gavin Sherry had maintained his lead of 12 seconds and put his name inside the top 5 fastest times ever run at Thetford running 15:54.79. Gavin is now one of only 5 boys to break 16:00 on the Thetford Academy course. This was a performance for the ages by Gavin. Puffer also had a very impressive performance in second finishing in 16:06.12 which puts him at 8th fastest ever on the course! Callum Sherry finished 3rd holding off an impressive charge in the final K by Luke Anthony to move up from 7th place to 4th place at the finish. The top 10 was rounded out by Bohlke(CT), Thornton-Sherman(VT), Cox(NH), Birhanu Harriman(NH), Daniel McCarthy(ME) and Patrick Gandini(NH).
The team battle was as predicted coming down to U-32, Bishop Hendricken, La Salle and Ridgefield. Hendricken got their #1 runner in first, but right behind him were the Beard twins so U-32 had two inside the top 20. La Salle quickly had their top 2 in right behind them so now the battle was on. Hansen with a huge race for U-32 in 28th overall gets them to three in before any of the other contenders. U-32 closed it out with their #4 being the first 4th runner in and their 5th, running a gutsy race to propel them to the first VT boys NE championship since 1987 and only the second title ever on the boys side for the Green Mountain state. La Salle and Ridgefield tied with 162 points and La Salle edged them out with their 6th man finishing ONE spot ahead of Ridgefields 6th. That doesn’t do justice to how close that was though. The times of each teams 6th man were 18:31.41 for La Salle and 18:31.95 for Ridgefield!!! You can’t get much closer than that.
An elated and emotional U-32 Coach Andrew Tripp pretty much wrapped up the day perfectly for the Raiders in this post race quote: “Sargent Burns(U-32 #5) ran the most clutch race under massive pressure that I have ever seen. He passed 25+ guys in the last 2K and we won by 23….we both cried when the scores were announced.” That’s cross country at its best. You need a team of 5 all working together and for each other. And sometimes in the case of La Salle, you need a sixth too! What a great race and a day of amazing performances.
The girls race was close for about 1K of the race until Ruth White (ME) decided to put the hammer down and when she did, she was gone. By about the 2K mark she had already begun to pull away from Rachel St. Germain(CT), who was trying to chase her down. After St. Germain, there was still a pretty large pack of runners that included Ava Thurston(VT), Brooke Strauss(CT), Delaney Hesler(ME) and Cary Drake(ME). The 2nd and 3rd K is an area where a lot of runner movement happens because of the long continuous climbing after the mostly downhill 1st K and it was no different.
By the 3K mark, White had opened up a 15 second lead over St. Germaine and a 32 second gap over Thurston and the rest of the chase pack. As the leaders headed toward Morty’s Monster, the rest of the race was starting to feel the effects of the climbing and had started to string out. Morty’s is the next issue that the runners have to tackle and the race would string out even more after they climbed the Monster. This was the part of the race were New Milford took control. It was hard to tell which team was in the lead up until this point. Bonny Eagle led by Hesler also took advantage of this portion of the course to put themselves into good position in the team race.
At the 4K mark, White had stretched her lead to 20 seconds over St Germaine who was comfortably in front of Thurston. Those 3 had pretty much secured the top 3 spots with 1K left to race but the team race was still up in the air. This was the point that Maine flexed its muscles because the next 4 runners through after the top 3 were all from Maine. In places 4-7 in was Thea Crowley, Hadley Mahoney, Drake and Hesler in a Maine train. New Milfords #1 Sydney Kelleher came through in 12th place to lead the New Milford charge to the finish. From this point forward is almost like a roller coaster with all of the steep downs and ups that come at the runners in the final K of racing.
At the finish White had stretched her lead to 23 seconds and became only the 12th girl ever to break 19:00 at Thetford. Her time of 18:44.73 puts her as the 8th fastest ever and she is still only a sophomore! St. Germaine ran a great race to finish 2nd in 19:07 followed by Thurston in 3rd. The 4-6 spots would end up filled with runners from Maine. Hadley Mahoney, Drake and Hesler held down those spots to follow White’s lead as the Maine individuals showed their strength. Strauss(CT), Crowley(ME), Chloe Trudel(NH) and Alice Kredell(VT) rounded out the top 10.
Now the race to the line for the team championship started to take shape. New Milford’s Kelleher moved up one spot to finish in 11th place and help secure the team championship for the New Milford. Madelaine Sweeney came in 23rd for New Milford’s second all New England runner. She was the first #2 across the line for any team and that helped create a pretty sizable lead for New Milford. The runner of the meet for New Milford may have been Claire Daniels who finished in 46th place after battling an in-season illness and only being cleared to run in the last couple of weeks. Claire won the Woods Trail in late September at Thetford so if fully healthy you would expect her to be much higher up in the standings. If she was not able to run, it would have significantly impacted their team score. That was a great effort by Claire when she was not at her best.
The team battle for the podium was rounded out with Bonny Eagle(ME) led by Hesler and Emmaline Pendleton pacing them to a second place finish. The Bonny Eagle coaches celebrated their 2nd place finish with a good old mudslide down the finish hill after the awards ceremony. I’m sure it was all worth it! Glastonbury rounded out the podium in 3rd place led by freshman Strauss and sophomore Jacqueline Dudus. Glastonbury will return their top 5 scorers from this year’s New England meet next year, so they look to continue to be strong in the future. Champlain Valley had a strong end of their season and finished in 4th followed by fellow VTrs Harwood in 5th place. The top ten was filled in by La Salle Academy(RI), Burlington(VT), Dover(NH), North Kingstown(RI) and Guilford(CT).
The girls race was a great way to wrap up a beautiful day of racing. The Maine individuals dominated the individual races by placing 5 in the top 10, but the Connecticut girls ruled the team podium with New Milford in 1st and Glastonbury in 3rd. We can only hope that 2022 will bring us racing that is just as exciting and weather that is just as good!
One thought on “Results, Recap, Pics! 2021 New England Championships”
I believe Sherry is now the #4 performer with the 5th best performance all-time at Thetford (Ostberg, Principe and Henk (twice)) ahead of him). Also have 7 guys that have gone sub-16:00 all-time. Finally, Puffer is (at least) the 15th best performer all-time.