Usually when the words championship and weather appear in the same sentence it's because harsh conditions have destroyed the training cycles of athletes in New England. Thankfully, Mother Nature was smiling upon the Northeast and unseasonably mild conditions have the elite of the state poised for impressive marks on Sunday.
Every event in a state championship provides excitement and drama, but this year the relays may decide the team title. But don't expect to see the same line-ups from last week. Some additional fresh legs --courtesy of athletes that did not qualify in individual events-- may help the common man become the hero. We watched it happen last Sunday at the Division 1 Championships, and those same teams remain in the hunt this week.
The best coaches in the state definitely have a few tricks up their sleeves, and it's foolish to speculate on the thoughts of a genius......or a madman.
Below is a look at each of the event groupings and the interesting matchups contained within.
Watching Greg Boursiqout destroy the record books last year has skewed our perception of the boys 55m hurdles. His incredible 7.36 meet record will stand, but it should not take away from how talented Liam Cross of Falmouth is.
Cross suffered a major hip injury last year and has fought his way back to become the top seed Sunday. He will improve on his 7.68 qualifying time, but the 55m hurdles is the most volatile event on the track and nothing is certain among the chaos. Nolan Raimo (Marblehead), Perry Nowell (Springfield Central), Connor McCarthy (Walpole) and Brendan Sullivan (Westford Academy) have all qualified with times under 7.8 seconds, but a good start and a clean run will determine the finishing order.
The race of the day in the sprints will be between Donovan Henry (Catholic Memorial) and Charles Ruffin (King Philip) in the 300m. Both may challenge the 35 second barrier, but Ruffin has a busy day scheduled with multiple rounds of the 55m and the long jump. Henry worked at longer distances to start the season and he will pounce early if there is any sign of weakness from Ruffin.
The 600m features one of New England's best in Andre Rolim of Somerville. His 1:21.04 qualifying time is currently US#8 and nearly two seconds better than the next fastest qualifier. But that's not to imply that the race will be boring. Six other athletes have qualified with times under 1:24 and the race for a podium spot will include some photo finishes and maybe even an athlete from outside the final section.
The 55m is probably the most wide open event on the boys’ side. Top seed PJ Hayes of Walpole will have all the competition he can handle with a veteran field breathing down his neck. John Ojukwu (Nashoba), Charles Ruffin (King Philip), and Adam Couitt (Somerset) all qualified outside the top three but have the ability to win the event if they can secure a center lane in the finals.
Boys Distance Races
Joe Vercollone of Pembroke crossed the line at the US Open in 2:27. Unfortunately, that time will never be recorded in his official list of accolades because he was disqualified for breaking-in early. Some would argue that the early break bought him some time, but the simple fact remains that he can run under 2:28. His 1:55 split in the 4x800m the next night at the New Balance Grand Prix justifies that assertion.
So what will the field do, and who will be in contention? The field will go out fast and there will be carnage in its wake.
Joel Hubbard of Marshfield has earned the top seed and the respect of his peers following a dominant season in the middle distance events. Last week we got the matchup we waited for all winter when Hubbard and Josh Lanmpron of Mansfield went head-to-head at the Division 2 Championships. Hubbard earned the win and the top qualifying time of 2:27.43, but Lampron was not far behind at 2:27.57. Adding to the drama was Brendan Robertson of Westborough who finished third in 2:29.46. A sub 2:30 third place finish is absurd, and all three are now ranked in the top ten nationally.
Hubbard, Lampron, Robertson, Vercollone, Tim Cox (Acton-Boxborough), and Ben Groleau (Framingham) will all be in the mix, but the great unknown is what Lampron's progression curve will be after an injury plagued fall. Will the multiple weeks of racing take its toll, or is he just getting started?
The boys’ mile will have interesting team implications with the battle between James Sullivan of Acton-Boxborough and Wes Gallagher of Pembroke helping set the tone for the meet. There is a good chance that the pair will finish 1-2, and a two point swing will have little overall impact. But momentum is paramount in a tight championship.
Mike O'Donnell (Methuen), Kevin Thomas (Marshfield) Sam Burrington (Brookline) and David Taranto (Burlington) will make-up the front pack, but if Christian Stafford can find his way into the top five, Pembroke will have won the battle. The war is a different story.
The two mile does not have the qualifying times that garnered so much excitement last year, but the field has some very high quality entrants. Brookline teammates Mark Perry and Chernet Sisay have a great chance to go 1-2 if they work together and cause separation from the field. John Green (St. John's), Stephen Robertson (Wakefield) and Chris Allen (King Philip) are all lurking in the pack and have had mixed results over the past few weeks. But, if they are underestimated, they will seize the opportunity.
Boys Field Events
One of the best stories from last weekend was the dominating performances by three separate field event athletes in each of their respective disciplines. Swardic Mayanja (Newton North) won the shot put with a NE#1 toss of 58'11.5", Gilberto Brown (Lowell) won the high jump with a season best 6'8", and Olisa Obiefuna (Saugus) won the long jump with a NE#1 mark of 23'2.75". All are top seeds, but all will be challenged.
Mayanja's biggest competition will come from Colin Hoey of Lowell and Eric Beckwith of North Attleboro. Both have thrown over 55 feet this year, but Hoey tacked-on several feet to his season best when he switched back to the glide technique after experimenting with the spin. Hoey's success will also play a large part in the overall team success of Lowell.
Obiefuna will have plenty of company over 22 feet in the long jump, and the final placement of Kris Horn may be the added boost Pembroke needs outside of the distances races to secure a title. Horn enters the meet at 22'4.5"; just an inch behind #2 seed Yosa Nosamiefan of B.C. High.
Chelmsford has owned the 4x200m relay this winter and they will be the team to beat Sunday. Their 1:30.68 qualifying time is the best in New England, but the roller derby event that is the 4x200m can make for some interesting mishaps in the exchange zone. Seven teams ran qualifying times under 1:33 and getting to the exchange zone first may be critical. With that in mind, the order each team places their horses may make all the difference.
The 4x800m may be a replay of the New Balance Grand Prix, but there is something about a state championship that makes people dig just a little bit deeper.
Lowell put together a stellar performance last week in their pursuit of a Division 1 team championship, and they will need to replicate that finish if they want to have a shot at the All-State team title. They will be challenged every step of the way by 3-4 other teams that have the capability to run under the meet record.
That magic record breaking number is 7:57.59 set last year by Westwood, but records are secondary to wins. Acton-Boxborough, Andover, Pembroke, Marshfield, and Brookline will all be under 8:05, and several will be sub 8:00. Somebody is going to have to put together a 1:55 split or faster to close out this field.
The drama of the 4x400 at the Division 1 Championships can't be replicated, and with Lowell removed from the field, it becomes a war between Acton-Boxborough, Newton North, Pembroke, and Mansfield. Franklin and Newton South will be within striking distance, but they will have to weather the big punch delivered by some of the best middle distance runners in the state.
It would not be shocking to see the team title come down to this event, and there is no better way to end a meet.
We get to see what many believe to be the best race of the year…..for the third time! At the MSTCA Elite meet, Vanessa Clerveaux (Brockton), Jen Esposito (Mansfield), Kayla Wong (Newton North), and Nicole Genard (Somerville) squared-off in an epic 55m hurdles battle that resulted in Genard taking home the win and a state record of 8.00. Fast forward a couple of weeks, and the match-up took place again at the Division 1 Championships (minus Esposito who won Division 2). The second time around, Clerveaux was ready for everything they had to offer and posted a winning time of 8.05.
Now we get to see how it will unfold for a third time. Having Esposito in the field makes a dramatic difference because the fight for the center of the track gets a little tougher in the qualifying rounds. In addition, a fourth person of that caliber can make the finals seem a little crowded, and that can put people on edge when the gun goes up.
Briana Robitaille (Attleboro) made an important statement in the qualifying rounds of the 55m at the Division 1 Championships and entered the finals with the fastest time of the day. But Carla Forbes (Newton North) is such a fierce competitor that stealing ten points from her is always a daunting task.
This week Forbes enters Sunday with the top qualifying time, and the most experience of anybody in the field. The young contingent of female sprinters does not have a senior in the top five, and state championship level nerves may play a factor. Newton North can win the team title even if Forbes gives up the top spot, but anybody who attempts to take it from her is in for a massive fight.
Rebecca Robinson has been the class of the 300m for two years now. Modest, polite, and graceful, she quietly goes about her business of dismantling championship fields. Lane selection is going to play a factor for Maya Jarostchuk (Acton-Boxborough), Danielle Griffin (Norwell), Emily Doyle (Duxbury), and Dominique Hall (Shrewsbury). If Robinson is on your left, you had better have a feel as to where she is. And if she is on your right, you had better manage the stagger before it gets out of control. If nobody in the field has her set-up at the break, she will run away with the event because of her tremendous strength. The girls mentioned above have the talent to challenge her, but you had better catch her off guard in the final corner to do so.
The only thing that can challenge the depth of the girls 600m is the 1000m. The Division 1 Championships 600m race decimated the state rankings, and in the process, reestablished Kendal Knous (Franklin) as the person to beat. Knous won the event in 1:34.15, holding off a very talented field that included Laura Williamson (Wachusett), Madison Acton (Lincoln-Sudbury), and Laurie Femmel (Natick).
But Griffin continues her brilliant season after winning the Division 4 Championships in the second fastest qualifying time (1:34.99). She has not been challenged often, but when she was, she delivered. At the MSTCA Elite meet, Griffin, Knous, Femmel, and Williamson locked horns in the final section, but it was Griffin who came away with an impressive victory.
The 600m might also signal the unofficial start of the girls’ team battle. Acton will have the added burden --or motivation depending on how you look at it-- to score significant team points for Lincoln-Sudbury, and hopefully hold off Meghan Bellerose of Newton North in the process.
Girls Distance Races
The girls’ 1000m is a great story of the elder statesman and the young gun. Senior Marika Crowe (Lincoln-Sudbury) will try to cement her legacy in Massachusetts running lore by adding another championship to her outdoor mile title. Sophomore Alexia Lipman (Bromfield) is standing in her way.
Crowe, Lipman, and Lexi Buonfiglio (Lynnfield) all qualified with 2:57.x times. Jennifer Markham (Lunenburg) and Meghan Grela (Ursuline Academy) were not far behind in 2:59.x. Add to that five more girls that have run under 3:02, and you have a race that will rival the excitement of the boys 1000m.
The speculation is that the race will go out fast and it will be a physical affair with so many athletes of similar abilities clumped together. Savvy runners with experience may be at an advantage because the pack should remain intact for a majority of the race. Lincoln-Sudbury needs the ten points from Crowe, and the Henry Phelan distance factory usually delivers.
The girls’ mile record is in jeopardy. The 4:52.11 benchmark will be under attack by Catarina Rocha of Peabody who enters the meet with a season best of 4:53.89. Rocha is accustomed to racing alone and has an unbelievable ability to hit splits. If the instructions from her coach are to run for a record, she will go hard from the gun and string-out the field.
Rocha's potential run at history should be exciting, but just as intriguing to watch will be the reaction of the field. Freshman Liz Holmes of Foxboro is ready to run sub 5 minutes --having run 5:03 earlier in the season-- but she will be presented with the tough choice of chasing Rocha or remaining in the pack. The worst place to be is between the two.
Alex Giese (Franklin), Katie Powell (Bishop Feehan), Colleen Sands (Wachusett), Kelsey Whitaker (NDA), and Olivia Brackett (Weston) are all veteran runners who have faced similar situations in their running careers. The great unknown is freshman Olivia Lantz (Manchester Essex) who won the Division 4 meet in 5:10. Does she form an alliance with Holmes and chase Rocha, or does she sit in the pack and simply run for a podium spot?
Maggie Mullins' accomplishments are understated. The Andover senior has consistently produced some of the best distance performances in the state, and she enters Sunday as the top seed in the 2 mile. Her 10:51 season best is just ahead of Julie McConville (Hingham) at 10:53. But this will not be a two person race. Abby McNulty (Bishop Feehan) and Camille Blackman (Longmeadow) ran season best times last week of 11:06 and 11:07, respectively, but both have the talent to join the sub 11 minute club.
In addition, Division 2 Cross Country State Champion Jordan O'Dea is sitting in 5th. If she approaches the oval with the same poise and confidence she displayed at Franklin Park, she can run with -and beat- anybody.
Girls Field Events
The girls high jump features three of the best all-around athletes in the state. Emily Cahill (Uxbridge) leads the pack with a season best of 5'6", but Amy Collins (Wachusett) and Michelle Savoie (Milford) are not far behind at 5'4". After that, a large pack of girls will be in contention. Sophomore Ellen DiPietro (Marshfield) has a season best of 5'6", while Leah Potter (Lincoln-Sudbury) and Megan Ritchie (Coyle & Cassidy) have cleared 5'4" this season. There has been a log-jam in the girls high jump at 5'2" all season and first attempt clearances will be key.
Newton North did serious damage in the long jump last week, but don't expect them to walk away with the 20 points they posted at the Division 1 Championships. Carla Forbes is one of the best in the country at this event and she enters the meet with a qualifying jump that exceeds the current meet record of 19'5.5". Her 19'9" personal best is almost two feet ahead of the second seed Michelle Savoie. Unless somebody can jump 19 feet, Forbes will earn the much needed 10 team points. After that, it will be a race to post a mark over 17 feet, with team title implications resting on the shoulders of Kayla Wong of Newton North.
Moving to the throws, when was the last time the top seed in the shot put was also in the state championships for the 55m hurdles? Sydney Bennett of North Attleboro will perform that odd combination, and the feat speaks volumes about her athleticism. Sometimes speed and technique trump brute strength.
Bennett is joined by Adrienne Thornton (O’Bryant) and Stephanie White (Billerica) who have all thrown over 39 feet. Winning may come down to posting a big mark early in the competition to put pressure on the field.
Brockton has just been fantastic in the 4x200 this year and they have a legitimate shot at the meet record of 1:43.46. The Boxers enter with the top seed of 1:44.15 and have a significant gap on Andover in second (1:46.65). Andover will need the eight points to keep their team in contention for a top three finish, but Hingham, Somerville, Watertown, and NDA are all right there.
One thing on Sunday is certain, if Lincoln-Sudbury wants a shot at the team title they have to win the 4x800m. The chances are good considering last week they rolled to the #2 time in New England, but the top seven teams all have elite pedigrees. Bishop Feehan is the current Massachusetts Division 2 Cross Country Champions, Hamilton-Wenham represented the Northeast at the Nike Cross Nationals, and Weymouth is never out of the conversation when discussing elite girls distance programs. In addition, Franklin may pose the biggest threat to Lincoln-Sudbury if their tired athletes can muster the strength to maintain contact until the anchor leg.
But the traditional big cross country names are not the only ones who will challenge for a win. At one point this season, Narragansett led the state with a 9:35.40 season best, and Lunenburg emerged victorious in the MSTCA Elite meet against a stacked field that included several of the names listed above. With that said, this race will probably come down to the anchor leg, and nobody in the field has more elite relay experience than Marika Crowe of Lincoln-Sudbury.
If Lincoln-Sudbury does not have a lead in the team title competition going into the 4x400m their chances of taking home the big prize diminish greatly. Newton North has four girls that can all run sub 60 seconds, and one that can run 56-57 seconds. A handful of teams can run under 4 minutes in this field, but Acton-Boxborough, Wellesley, Marshfield, Mansfield, Wachusett, and NDA will need big performances from their 2nd and 3rd legs. It will be hard to match the depth of Newton North, but several teams will be operating with more fresh legs than usual. Anything can happen, that’s why we race.
MileSplitMass will have full coverage of the All-State Championships with multiple photographers, race video, live results, and a full recap. Check the meet page for all the details and the most recent updates.