Massachusetts State Meet: Girls Preview

A muddy course may have a tremendous impact on the outcome Saturday.  The projected sloppy conditions add a dimension of strength to racing 5,000 meters at Franklin Park that you would not otherwise see in other regions of the country.  The added energy it will take to traverse the soggy fields will only be second to the perils of a full descent down Bear Cage Hill. 

But the good news is that Massachusetts has some very strong female runners and messy conditions are nothing new to racing in New England.  The majority of the impact will be felt by those athletes who are not confident in their mid-race strength and try to hang on just long enough to outkick opponents.  Race strategies may shift towards a significant push in the second mile to test the mettle of the field, thus opening gaps and spreading out the race.  So many of the girls teams are reliant on 1-5 gap times that contact may be more critical than ever.

Division 1 Girls

Weymouth is the defending State Champion and has earned top billing until someone can beat them in a championship.  They won the EMass Division 1 title by 15 points over Lowell last weekend and the progression of freshman Ashley Betts has helped fill some gaps that the Wildcats had starting the season.  The squad has been winning by placing a solid pack in the front third of races, but there have been bumps in the road when the race gets off to a fast start……until last weekend.

Early in the season Weymouth traveled to the Paul Short Invitational where they finished 14th among a bevy of regionally elite programs.  Two weeks later, they finished 6th at the Brown Invitational behind two New York powers and three of the top teams in New England.  Both races went out fast, but every race is just work for Mike Miller group until championship time.  They clearly gained a tremendous amount of knowledge by traveling out of sate early in the season, and as expected, they applied those lessons to the challenges they would face in the Massachusetts post season.  Managing a fast early pace is critical for Weymouth, but it’s also going to be critical for every other team in the race.

Whitman-Hanson has been improving as the weeks of the season passed by.  A large part of that is the product of their young runners developing into productive scoring members.  Last week, Whitman-Hanson won the EMass Division 3 race by 57 point over Oliver Ames, and much of it had to do with the performances of sophomore Jenny Dimascio-Donahue and freshman Kelsey Tierney.  All five of their scoring runners finished in the top 15 and they posted a 35 second 1-5 gap.  The development of Dimascio-Donahue and Tierney added a dimension of depth to W-H that many teams in the field are going to have a hard time dealing with. 

Wachusett started the year as a pre season favorite but shuffled around the top 15 in the rankings because they remained fairly quiet. They finished 5th at the Ocean State Invitational; 53 points behind Hamilton-Wenham and 66 points behind Bishop Feehan.  Then they shifted their focus to the league season.  That is, until they emerged at the Catholic Memorial Invitational where they toppled Haverhill who was the #1 team in the state at the time. 

A transition had taken place and the Mountaineers picked-up their 11th straight title at the Quabbin Invitational.  The following weekend they crushed the field at the Central Division Championships by putting up just 22 points.  Colleen Sands enters Saturday's race as the Central Division Individual Champion and her supporting cast will not be a surprise to anybody after their performance last Saturday.

The team that is a surprise to many is Masconomet.  The group led by Mackenzie Shelgren has remained off the radar and out of the MSTCA rankings for the entire season until this past weekend when they jumped to #3. They were second to Hamilton-Wenham at the Cape Ann League Championships by 42 points but came on strong last Saturday to win the EMass Division 2 title by 10 points over Lincoln-Sudbury.  They might have some depth issues with the larger field, but if their 4th and 5th runners can deliver they should be a top five team.

Finishing in the top ten as a team is going to be an interesting dog fight.  Lowell, Peabody, Lincoln-Sudbury, Haverhill, Newton South, Andover, Chelmsford, Lexington, and Franklin are separated by such small amounts that any twist of fate can spell success or disaster. 

The individual title looks like it will be Catarina Rocha’s to lose. The junior star from Peabody has been setting course records all season long and cruised to an 18:04 win last weekend in the Division 1 race of the EMass Championships.  To put that performance in perspective, Rocha is now 14th on the Franklin Park Top 100 list and she beat Maggie Mullins of Andover by 35 seconds.  Even more impressive, Mullins had a great race and she is now #51 on the Franklin Park Top 100. 

We have yet to find anybody in the state that can keep up with Rocha, but if anybody has a chance it’s Camille Blackman of Longmeadow.  Blackman has been dominating her part of the state and won the Western Division Championship by 35 seconds over Audrey Gould of Amherst.  This was the latest addition to a season of accomplishments that included a PVIAC Championship and a second place finish at the Burnt Hills Invitational (17:50 for 3 miles).  Blackman will have to decide early whether to go with Rocha or control the chase pack, because sitting in limbo between the two may prove to be a dangerous position.

In addition to the names listed above, Alex Giese, Christine Davis, Priyanka Fouda, Megan Radcliffe, Lauren O’Neil, Jackie Solimine, Lauren Hagen, Abby Hurd, Shannon Hickey, Grace Ndungu and a handful of others will make up the chase pack that will have to make rapid decisions.  Commit to a pace that is out of your comfort zone too early and it may cost you a top ten finish.


Division 2 Girls

There may be less overall depth in Division 2, but just like the boys, the race could not get any tighter.  Bishop Feehan and Hamilton-Wenham squared-off in an early season test at the Ocean State Invitational.  In that race, Feehan got the best of the Generals 65 to 78.  They have not raced against each other since, but they do have a common foe in Dennis-Yarmouth.  Hamilton-Wenham beat D-Y by 85 points at the Bay State Invitational.  Similarly, Bishop Feehan beat D-Y by 83 points at the MSTCA Twilight Invitational. 

Trying to predict the winner of a race via a proxy team may be a stretch, but we do know this, Bishop Feehan has the advantage with their front three, but Hamilton-Wenham has the advantage with their 4th and 5th.  So the outcome of the race may come down to the placement of those two groups.  If Bishop Feehan’s top three can get out far enough ahead to offset Hamilton-Wenham’s depth they have a chance.  If Hamilton-Wenham can maintain a small gap with a group that is in position early, they have a chance.  What both teams cannot do is underestimate Weston.

Weston started the season by finishing second to La Salle Academy of Rhode Island by just eight points in the Bowdoin XC Classic.  An impressive performance considering La Salle just finished second in the New England Championships to nationally ranked Champlain Valley of Vermont.  They shifted their focus to some very challenging Dual County League meets and reemerged at the MSTCA Twilight Invitational.  There they ran a split squad that evening and didn’t post a team score, but it would have been interesting if Charlotte Walmsley had raced and sophomores Read Allen and Zoe Snow moved up from the sophomore division. 

We will have to wait until Saturday to get our first head-to-head match-up involving the three Division 2 powerhouses.  What we do know at this point is that Weston handled the challenges of a very competitive Dual County League and they have the front end fire power to wreak havoc in a championship race.  But they will need some serious help from their depth to pull an upset.

Traveling in from the farthest reaches of the state will be Western Massachusetts Division 2 Champions Mt. Greylock.  They went 1-5-7-8-14 for a score of 35 points and a 46 point win over Lennox.  The Mounties will join forces with Central Massachusetts Division 2 Champions Tyngsboro and runner-up Narragansett in the fight for a top five finish.  Tyngsboro will bring a ton of youth to the meet as the majority of their top seven have not even reached high school yet.  Win or lose, this is great experience for a program with a very bright future.

Similar to the Division 1 Championship, there is a dominant runner that will force the rest of the field to make quick decisions.  Jordan O’Dea has run away from the competition in the Bay State Invitational, the MSTCA Twilight Invitational, the ACL Championships, and the Coaches Invitational.  The Dennis-Yarmouth junior won the EMass Division 4 title by 10 seconds (18:34) over Abbey McNulty of Bishop Feehan and that’s as close as anybody has gotten to her this season.  She is comfortable up front and will take the lead early; challenging everybody else to hang on. 

A handful of athletes in the field will accept that challenge.  McNulty will take another shot at her, and Olivia Brackett of Weston will join her.  Brackett finished second to O’Dea at the MSTCA Twilight Invitational, but won the EMass Division 5 Championship in 19:09.

The chase pack may look like a tri-meet with Bishop Feehan, Hamilton-Wenham, and Weston taking up the majority of the places, but Sarah Keiran of Ipswich, Jessie Cardin of Sutton, Kerri Keohane of Tyngsborough, and Emily Kaegi of Mt. Greylock just might try to break away from the group.  To be successful in that attempt they will need a pack to commit or they will find themselves running a majority of the race in very lonely and difficult gaps.