What a day!!! Meet of Champions 2022! All athletes and teams vying for New England qualifying slots (top 6 teams, top 25 individuals) and NH bragging rights yielded incredible competition. Unique in a few ways as the meet was moved to Alvirne due to bridge repair at Mines Falls and athletes were met with unseasonably warm weather in the 70s! Reviews were overwhelmingly positive as the course at Alvirne is true cross country combining 2 woods loops with 2 grass loops for plenty of opportunities for spectating! Kudos to the Alvirne cross country community and NHIAA for organizing and pulling off a top level event. Now lets get to the racing!
Defending Champion Brianna Malone (Portsmouth Christian Academy) wasted no time with getting out and taking control of the race, with only Coe-Brown’s Sheldyn Fisher giving chase. Malone was nothing short of impressive considering she has never run the course and without Bow’s Susannah Zahn racing, the potential was there for her to essentially time trial the entire way. Well, she truly did what she set out to do, growing her lead throughout the course to win by 46 seconds in 18:04.
Running aggressively herself, Fisher would build a gap on the chase pack which included Bedford’s Fiona Lee, Pinkerton’s Contessa Silva, Plymouth’s Addison Englund, D1 State Champ Winnacunnet’s Charlotte Koutalidis, Keene’s Reagan Hoy, as well as Oyster River tandem Haley Kavanagh and Mackenzie Cook. Fisher held the gap pretty consistently through the mid race grass loop. By the 2 mile, the large chase pack whittled down to Kavanagh, Lee, Silva and Cook began closing the gap in earnest. Fisher was able to hold them off until about 600 meters to go when only Kavanagh and Lee caught her. All three battled over this final distance with Kavanagh pulling away in a strong kick to claim 2nd in 18:50 to Lee’s 18:57 and Fisher’s 18:59. Silva and Cook would have a battle of their own with Silva taking 5th in 19:04 and Cook 6th in 19:06.
Completing the top 10 were Englund (7th, 19:12), Hoy (8th, 19:19), Koutalidis (9th, 19:22) and Portsmouth’s Mia Scherr (10th, 19:23).
Placing 11th in 19:26, and leading her team to the 2022 NH Meet of Champions Title was freshman Lea Perreard. The upstart D2 Champion Hanover Marauders executed their usual race plan perfectly sporting a 1:19 second pack time, placing their scoring 5 in the top 32 for 86 points. Supporting Perreard were freshman Lila Muirhead (22nd, 20:03), freshman Matilda Monroe (25th, 20:17), senior Maria Anderson (27th, 20:21), and freshman Megan Faris (32nd, 20:45). That’s 4 freshmen in their top 5!
D1 Runner Up Bedford also put on a clinic of sorts as they scored 128 points for 2nd. Led by Lee’s great 3rd place effort, the Bedford pack continued to yield dividends as their 2-5 scorers, Kelseigh O’Neil, Caitrin Duprey, Mia Moranti, and Collette Sneau all finished within 15 seconds (20:51-21:05) of each other. That is great cross country pack running and something they have done all season long. D1 Champs, Pinkerton had a strong showing as well coming off their huge win last weekend. Their usual pair of previously mentioned Silva and Isabelle Groulx (14th, 19:45) led their efforts. Then their own pack of 3-5 scorers came in within 18 seconds of one another to edge an impressive Winnacunnet by just 6 points. Led by Koutalidis and sophomore Carly Eaton’s 21st place, the Warriors placed 4th with 151 points. This began a seacoast theme as Oyster River placed 5th with 169 points and Dover, led by Isabel McIntyre (13th) and Alyson Bortz (16th), snagged the final New England qualifying slot with 186 points.
Can you say “BARNBURNER”??? That’s exactly what we got thanks to Gilford’s Patrick Gandini and Lebanon’s Birhanu Harriman as they took the entire 5 kilometers to decide it yesterday. This race had everything. Both runners got out well and then Gandini put on a strong move to create a gap at the mile. Accustomed to racing solo, Gandini looked strong and smooth as he floated through the trails. However, Harriman loves chasing, and he stalked Gandini the final 2 miles. Matter of fact many thought he timed it perfectly drawing even right before exiting the woods to the final 200. But it was Gandini holding him off around the final corner into the final, short stretch to out-lean Harriman 15:05.2 to 15:05.4. Wow!
When Gandini made that move at the mile, it splintered the pack, but continuing his late season charge was BG’s Matt Giardina who also seemed to float throughout to place a comfortable 3rd. Only a sophomore, he seems to be the heir apparent. Londonderry tandem, Ryan Fortin and Sean Clegg clearly made it look like a practice effort as they ran together placing 4th and 5th respectively in 15:49 and 15:51. Coe-Brown senior Tyler Tkaczyk placed a strong 6th in 15:57, vital for his team’s chances. Late season surprise Thomas Wolfe placed 7th in 16:07 a few seconds in front of Oyster River’s Chris Jernigan who in turn outleaned Bedford’s Jacob Redman for 8th. Roundng out the top 10 was freshman phenom Sullivan Sturtz (Keene).
When was the last time you heard of a team running without their number 1 runner, win the NH Meet of Champions. Exactly. We can’t think of a time either, but that is what faced Coe-Brown as they toed the line Saturday. As previously mentioned, it was clear Tkaczyk made his mind up to ensure CBNA still had a low stick by placing 6th. This certainly set the tone as they placed their top 4 in the top 25. More importantly Tkaczyk, Jamie Lano (16th, 16:33), Nikhil Chavda (17th, 16:33), and Gavin Demas (24th, 16:49) crossed before most team’s first. They are simply faster. But you need 5, and that came with Max Lemay who did his job to place 50th in 17:21. In the end they scored 70 points to win by 27. A great team victory which could pay off in the coming weeks with Aidan Cox looking to return at New Englands.
And they needed to be on, as Souhegan had an incredible 20 second pack time to place second with 97 points. Owen Stine (26th), Jaren Noorda (27th), Dallen Noorda (29th), Finley Irvine (37th), and Taloosh Anderson (38th) finished between 16:51 and 17:11. With a similar make up as a pack running team, and led by Theo Davis (23rd, 16:46) and Finn Christensen-Krafft (25th 16:51), D1 champs Pinkerton placed 3rd with 128 points, and a pack time of 1:28.
In traditional MOC fashion, it usually takes a top 10 finisher or two to qualify for New Englands. Well, Lebanon did just that off the shoulders of Harriman and Wolfe to qualify for the first time in school history for New Englands scoring 168 points! Congratulations! Beginning of the season, not sure if anyone, including themselves predicted that! Another example of what is great about our sport.
The battle for the final 2 spots was between 3 teams. Nashua South, led by Daniel Byrne’s 12th place finish took 5th with 184 points. They edged Windham by 5 points as the Jaguars certainly rallied the final half of the season to take the final spot with 189 points just 7 points up on a spirited Hanover team.
Congrats to all! See you all in Rhode Island! Interviews below.