CROSS COUNTRY PREVIEW- WEST DIVISION II
As always, predicting what will happen in any high school sport before it happens is an act of folly, and one that will almost always make the predictor look foolish and the second-guesser to look like a genius. But, given the task of previewing each of the state’s 10 divisions, and given that I’ve never shied away from an opportunity to look foolish, here I stand, ready to dive in. As a disclaimer, though, I should say this-I know only what these teams did in the past calendar year. I have no knowledge of incoming freshmen, soccer or field hockey transfers, or the gossip and rumors that seem to permeate the forums. And lastly, a failure to mention a particular team is not intended as a slight, but merely a reflection of the incredible depth each of the divisions our great state has to offer. In short- I don’t want to hear from coaches who feel slighted that their team went unmentioned.
Given that this is one of those every three years that the All State Championship meet is run on Northfield Mountain, all eyes will be on the Western Mass. Division Championships a week earlier on November 10th. The boys meet will have a very different look to it, as nine of the top 12 runners from 2011 have graduated, but the top male in the region, perhaps in the state, does emerge from this division- Lenox’s Scott Carpenter. A year ago, it was Mount Greylock and Cathedral of Springfield battling it out on the mountain, only to see the Mounties to come out on top by six points. This time around, Greylock looks positioned to be locked into another close battle, with Carpenter and Lenox now the top threat.
This won’t be close. Carpenter (16:47) simply dominated the field at DII West a year ago by 35 seconds, and did nothing in the next six months to make anybody think he was done. Also among the favorites to win DII All States (along with Pembroke’s Christian Stafford and John Valeri), Carpenter is the top returner there, having gone 15:52 for 3rd a year ago at Franklin Park. He followed up his junior XC campaign by placing 8th in the 2 mile outdoors (9:25.74), amongst a field of runners considered perhaps the deepest ever put together. Should Carpenter falter, look for Greylock senior Will Kirby or Hoosac Valley’s dynamic twin sophomores Travis and Trevor Ciempa to take the reins.
TOP 10 TEAMS
10. CATHEDRAL- Last year’s runners-up, the Panthers will need to build around exceptional junior Bill Brunton to have a chance to compete in 2012. The guess here is that recruits will come in to replace Mark Hegarty, Sam Burke, and Tom Brunton, but a top 10 finish isn’t out of the question.
9. HAMPSHIRE- The Red Raiders can expect to get a boost from upperclassmen Brandon Cross, Kyle Bean, and Tommy Sears, but what is most intriguing about this team is the contribution of freshmen Dylan Cross and Josh Ruer, as well as sophomore Dan Badwin, all of whom raced in the team’s top seven a year ago at WMass. Youth can be a blessing or a curse, but this group looks poised to improve from its 11th place finish from 2011.
8. SABIS- The Springfield Charter School’s Bulldogs sent four freshmen and a 7th grader to the state meet a year ago, and a possible top 10 finish seems about right for them. Tavino Basile, Tayvon Hodge, and Nelson Zayas lead the way for the tiny school, and depending on what they can get from the young crop, this could be a dangerous group come November.
7. GREENFIELD- The Green Wave will be led by seniors Colin Stack and Jeff Jackson, as well as sophomore William Borcey, but will need to get over the losses of standouts Evan Abelson and Mike Aucoin. The goal for Greenfield will be to try and hold serve to their 6th place finish from a year ago.
6. PALMER- Bringing back three top-50 runners would make any coach thrilled, but the Panthers have a tremendous upside even from this ranking. Juniors Matt Mahan and Scott Brewer and freshman Henry Domnarski provide a nice top 3, but they will need to improve their depth at the back of the pack to contend for one of the top 3 spots.
5. MONUMENT MOUNTAIN- The Spartans graduate their top two runners, but do bring back a strong trio of seniors in Kelt Wilska, Logan Morton, and Dylan Cole-Kink to work with in the fall. All were top 30 in 2011 and need to shave off a few places from that for Monument to make a trip to All States.
4. MONSON- Returning its entire top seven, the Mustangs might feel a sense of urgency this fall, realizing that it’ll be the last go-around for Steve O’Neill, Andrew Foster, Ian Thorpe, and Jon Scibelli, all seniors. There will be plenty of experience for this group when they toe the line at the Mountain on November 10th, with the goal of a trip back right at their fingertips. Junior Brendan Lloyd will be needed to hold the pack together, and all of these upperclassmen will need to be at their best.
3. HOOSAC VALLEY- Last year’s unlucky 4th place finisher didn’t get to make the trip to Boston, but my bet is that they will come through a deep group of talented teams to stay home on November 17thand run the Mountain all over again (not a reward to some). The Hurricanes will benefit from the sophomore twin tandem of Travis and Trevor Ciempa, each returning from top 20 finishes at WMass. Add senior Austin Poulton and freshman Jared Haley into the mix, and they won’t just be bidding for a trip to All States, they will be shooting for the top spot at WMass 2012.
2. LENOX- Carpenter isn’t the only Millionaire worth mentioning, as sophomore Tucker McNinch highlights a group of young runners who put together an impressive showing a year ago, including Nick Jarck and Ben Herrick. Lenox needs more than Carpenter to win the whole thing, but with McNinch, they might have the best top TWO runners, making the job of the pack that much easier to ascertain.
1. MOUNT GREYLOCK- As good as Carpenter is, he’s only one runner, and Greylock seems to have just enough to outlast Lenox for another title. But, like a year ago, they will need every position running on all cylinders at the Mountain. Will Kirby and sophomore Carter Stripp form an outstanding 1-2 punch, enough to offset Carpenter and McNinch’s total, and the depth might just be slightly better.
The story of the girls meet at Western Mass. DII this year will be a coming of age scenario, as there were more middle-schoolers (12) in the top 50 in 2011 than seniors (8). As every old-school XC coach seems to remind teams who have standout youngsters, you just never know what direction these young runners might head. While this may be true, data shows that, most young talented female runners continue to progress in the right direction unless they experience a major injury, which may or may not be avoidable. Either way, it will be exciting to watch WMass DII girls in 2012 to see who, if anyone, can make a run at Mount Greylock, a team that put its 5th runner in before the #2 runner of any other team in 2011.
Unlike Carpenter’s cruise in the boys’ race, the girls will have a battle of intense proportions looming. The top three runners return, with Emily Kaegi of Mount Greylock the top returner, and hoping to defend her gold from 2011. However, given her 11:41 2 mile in the spring, Frontier’s Natalie Mako (nickname “The Shark”???) might have closed most of the 18 second gap from a year ago. Another name to look for is Hampshire’s Emily Dalton, who, like Mako, will be a senior, and who was 3rd behind these two stars in 2011. No matter what, expect all three of these girls to figure the mountain out, and be in the hunt for a top 10 finish a week later when the sea level-dwellers from EMass come to their home.
TOP 10 TEAMS
10. GATEWAY- A team returning most of its runners from the 11th place team from a year ago, Gateway begins the theme of “how well will they mature?” 12th in 2011, Katie Clark will be asked to lead the way in her senior campaign, but she will need help from a young and improving nucleus. Ashley Yost, a sophomore, and sisters Fay-Valerie and Alexandra Gryzbowski, a freshman and senior, could be that very nucleus that earns this top 10 bid.
9. MONUMENT MOUNTAIN- Without returning a top 50 runner, this team’s strength is in its youth. But, the Spartans return their entire varsity from WMass 2011, and will have a really nice core of Maeve Wilber, Eleanor Stewart, and Sarah Benedict, two sophomores and a junior, to build off of. Should either Heather Hassett Hassett or Jordan Begley join the squad, they could see significant improvement from this spot.
8. SOUTHWICK-TOLLAND- Another young core comes from the Rams, who will turn to a cool customer, Paige Cool, to lead the way. Cool will be a junior and be tasked with keeping together a pack of freshmen and sophomores, most notably Emily McKinney and Abigail Howe. The upside is significant here, as like Monument Mountain, this team could be much improved.
7. FRONTIER- The first true All State contender, Natalie Mako makes the Red Hawks look difficult to contend with at this level. In fact, showing the incredible depth of this division, this team might improve a lot, but still be 7th. Setting them apart from the field will be their age and experience, as like Mako, Amy Graham and Sophie Morawski will be seniors, and Mairead Ferry will be a junior. The guess here is that the Hawks will be better, but so too will be the field.
6. HAMPSHIRE- Another team that seems to be punished by simply being in the wrong class at the wrong time, the Red Raiders will be better and return a whole lot. Another All State contender, Hampshire has a title contender in Emily Dalton, and a pack to join her with seniors Lindsey O’Connor and Elizabeht Woods joining 8th grader (!) Haley Marek. Youngsters Lauren Aldrich and Madison Eline had monster track seasons, and could come on board to join the party.
5. HOOSAC VALLEY- The jump team in this class, the Hurricanes were 7th in 2011, but with the youngest team in the field. They also packed the best, running every runner from 23:24 to 24:16. Should all five girls improve by 30-45 seconds, this team could be on the podium and preparing for another run on the Mountain. Kalyn Alibozek and Sydnee Gallup led the way, but just in front of 8th grader Cassidy McMahon and Hannah Folino. They are all young, all back, and could be poised for quite a run.
4. MOHAWK TRAIL- The dreaded 4th place finish from 2011, just 13 points from extending its season, should fuel the Warriors drive this fall. Natasha Olanyk, 6th a year ago, should give the team its front-runner, one that will be desperately needed in such a close field. Junior Abbi Yezierski will be the old-timer of the group, she entering her junior year, and will need to bring her experience to youngsters Angelic Grey, Hannah Kelleher, and Emma Jepsen. Running their whole team under 23:15 was good in 2011, but all will need to be 22:30 or under to get them to move on.
3. HOLYOKE CATHOLIC- It’s hard to believe that this team, after losing Staci Rezendes (4th place), could still be expected to compete for a top-3 spot, but they may just have the best returning top-3 runners. Sarah Jones, Audrey Boraski, and Natalie Davies bring experience, and one has to like the coaching that brought Rezendes to 11:51 in the spring. If the rest of the team’s training follows suit, the Gaels will hang onto their spot, but if they slip even a little bit, Mohawk Trail or someone else will steal their bid.
2. LENOX- It would surprise no one if the Millionaires came out and won the whole thing this fall, after taking 2nd in 2011 with a sophomore and a bunch of middle schoolers. Hannah McCluskey is the elder statesman of the group, entering her junior year, and must feel like the Mommy duck with this group of young guns in toe. Freshmen Emily Tibbetts, Grace Ellrodt, and Elizabeth Jarck, as well as 8thgrader Ella King have the experience of packing in together a year ago and earning a deserved trip to Franklin Park. It isn’t out of the question that this team, in a year or two more, is hoisting a trophy at another meet- the MIAA All State meet.
1. MOUNT GREYLOCK- After all I said about Lenox, and knowing that the Mounties graduated McKenzie Hitchcock, Laura Nolan, and Susie Shanley, all top 15 placers at WMass in 2011, why would they be ranked here? Because… until they are knocked off, Mt. Greylock owns this meet. You have to go back to 2008, when Holyoke Catholic and Kristen Veit scored 27 points, to the last time the Mounties were beaten at WMass, and they haven’t scored even 40 points since. Their decade of dominance dates all the way back to the turn of the century, as they have been one of the top two teams each time out. But aside from history, Mount Greylock has talent to bank on. Individual favorite Emily Kaegi is joined by Kat Chenail and Jenna Phelps, and should have the depth to repeat, especially on the strength of that top three.