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.
CROSS COUNTRY PREVIEW- EAST DIVISION VI
For the first time since anybody can remember, the Eastern Mass. Divisional meets will move from their home at Franklin Park, and head, hopefully for one year only, to Wrentham. The Wrentham course runs flat and fast, depending on how its mowed that is. The grass loop course, developed by the MSTCA in 2010, has had several variations, but should be ready for action in 2012. The boys DVI meet will possibly see a changing of the guard, as defending champion Ipswich graduates 3 of its top 4 runners, Seekonk returns a very young squad led by the Salit triplets (and a total of five freshman in its 2011 top-7), and runner-up Norwell brings back its excellent top 4. 45 points separated the top 5 teams in 2011, and this year should be no different.
While it’s hard to imagine East Bridgewater’s Tanner Picklus, defending champion by 24 seconds, to fail to defend his title, this is no sure thing. However, Norwell’s Owen Wiggins did not have his best race on the day at Franklin Park, and surely is among a handful of prospects that could win it. Teammate Tom Vafiades, last year’s bronze medalist, is another potential individual champion, and we’ve seen plenty of teammates push each other to greatness. Another group to watch are the sophomores, which dominate this class more so than most. Adam Petti of West Bridgewater, as well as Nick Accardi and Matt and Tim Salit of Seekonk should improve a good deal.
TOP 10 TEAMS
10. BISHOP FENWICK- The future looks bright for the Peabody-based Crusaders, who might have labored to a 19th finish in 2011, but appear to be the most improved group of the bunch. They graduate nobody, and are led by senior duo Brian Mendes and Daniel Deschenes. A team that had major success on the track this spring, they will need to see improvements in their pack in order to earn this lofty ranking, but they can do just that.
9. HANOVER- The Indians return a solid young core from their 15th place team in 2011, with Michael O’Connor and Brendan Hoar leading the charge. But make no mistake, they are slotted here because of their talented sophomore trio of Tim Good, Ernie Meads, and Alex O’Dowd, all of whom played a key role on the team a year ago.
8. EAST BRIDGEWATER- Sometimes having a runner as good as defending champ Tanner Picklus simply inspires the rest of the team to step up and give him company at the All State meet. The Vikings will need guys like Nick Frazier to close the large gap form #1 to #2, and fill in form there. Scoring a low number should help, but EB needs just a bit more than that.
7. WEST BRIDGEWATER- Freshman Adam Petti broke out in 2011, and just simply got better as the year went along. We went 4:41 and 10:05 this spring, and shows signs of beijg a threat to win the whole division at this rate. Jimmy White and Shane Healey lead the pack after Petti, but the gap to them needs to close down quite a bit in order for improvement to this prediction to take place.
6. IPSWICH- With star Dan O’Flynn graduating, the Tigers take a hit, but junior Mike Middle was among the top sophomores from 2011, and returns to lead a pack that includes Zach Angell and Luke Sirois, a senior and sophomore respectively. Always one of the Cape Ann League’s best teams, count on Ipswich to reload by the strength of this top 3.
5. MARIAN- The Framingham-based Mustangs just have one of those programs. Count them out, even for a second, and they come back to bite you in the back. 5th at EMass last year, the top 3 formed a pack that could have been among the best teams, but DIV 800 meter champion Marc George graduates. This leaves Nick Seymour and Chan Yoon to hold down the fort, which they seem more than capable of doing. A key returner will be Ayodeji Johnson, whose 32nd place team finish from 2011 left them just one position shy of making it to All States.
4. LYNNFIELD- 8th a year ago, the Pioneers should be one of the division’s most improved teams, given what they have coming back. #20 in 2011, Andrew Drinkwater (good XC name, it is important to stay hydrated) led the way and will return as a senior to lead the pack of Chase Davidson, Derek Owen, and Mike Tremblay. Drinkwater and Davidson had solid track seasons to go forward, and look like a nice 1-2.
3. DOVER-SHERBORN- Teddy Mosher was the top runner for the Raiders a year ago, but he departs a graduated man. This brings the task of another All States trip for this storied program to a group that includes Ben Brea, Trevor Chistolini, and Greg Litle, each top-50 kids at EMass in 2011. These kids each had top track seasons in the TVL, and should we Geoff Stevens join the Xc fold, a 2:04 800 runner in his own right, that would surely benefit the squad.
2. NORWELL- With Owen Wiggins and Tom Vafiades scoring likely less than 5 points combined, the Clippers should be on the podium once again. Last year’s runner-up finish to Ipswich might have been a surprise to some, but scoring two low places went a long way, and will do so again. Tom Hynes and sophomore Oliver Wallace will be counted on to fill in the next two slots, but #5 is a mystery. Then again, #5 appears to be a mystery to almost everybody else in this class, so Norwell might be shooting for the win if they find one.
1. SEEKONK- Since the days of Johnny Gregorek, the Warriors have been on the tip of everybody’s tongue in EMass. Truth be told, with five freshmen in their top 7, this just might end up being the best the program has ever seen. Triplets Matt, Tim, and Bryan Salit all look good enough, but when you add Nick Accardi, Kevin Mullen, and Nate Brown, you have a simply dominant group of youngsters who each broke 19:00 for 5K 15:30 for 4K, and 12:15 for 3K. Those wondering where they’ve been since XC… they all ran 5:09 or under as well, with Matt Salit going 4:44. Hey, maybe they’re still a year away from doing what they will ultimately do, but I wouldn’t bet against this group.
In 2011, Dover-Sherborn came out on top in a spirited three-team affair with Norwell and upstart Ursuline. These three teams are likely to stay in the hunt, as all return a huge part of their respective nuclei. D-S appears to be the favorite to begin with, as Lee Milne and Olivia Cannon, both top-5 finishers last year, return. A potential darkhorse team comes from last year’s 6th place finisher, Ipswich. With sisters Sarah and Tina Keiran returning, they are the favorites to bring back the individual champion. Any team that knows it is scoring 4 runners can take lots of pressure off and just do its job. Expect another really close meet in 2012, and it’s anybody’s guess who comes out on top.
Sarah Keiran dominated this race from start to finish in 2011, running 19:13 and beating Austin Prep’s Lizzy McDermott by 29 seconds. Keiran is far from the only contender, as Dover-Sherborn’s Lee Milne has the kind of pedigree and resume it might take to steal a win from her competitor. Any time the top 10 runners return to race a year later, plenty can happen. Others to watch will be West Bridgewater freshman Alison Wyman, who ran 20:35 as an 8th grader, Lexi Buonfiglio of Lynnfield (5:11 this spring) and sophomore Sarah Lagan of Marian, who was 7th a year ago, the top freshman finisher. At the end of the day, this should be Keiran’s race to lose, but if she slips, there will be plenty of girls to catch her fall.
TOP 10 TEAMS
10. AUSTIN PREP- Lizzy McDermott, being one of the top candidates for the individual win, can’t do it all alone, but there is optimism for the tiny Catholic school in Reading. A year after failing to field a 5-person team at EMass, McDermott leads the charge in front of a young, potential-filled group. Junior Elizabeth Lombardo can expect to be a top-20 type, and youngsters Murielle Baille and Renee Leavitt have room to grow. They will need to see their numbers grow to end of here, but have a top runner to make things easier if they do.
9. MARIAN- Like their boys, Marian’s girls always seem to be right in the thick of things. A year ago, it was a sub-par day at EMass that left them 9th, a position they could see improve in 2012. Sophomore Sarah Lagan went 11:18 this spring, showing promise that she will move up from her 6th place finish. Senior Maria Schwab also had a breakout spring, running 2:19. If those track times translate to the trails, this top 2 will be formidable. What they do after that, will decide how far they go.
8. ACADEMY OF NOTRE DAME- The Lancers of Tyngsborough bring back their top 4 runners from a 10th place team a year ago, and things are looking way up. A tight pack was the feature at DVI in November, and if they can all see to a 30-45 second improvement, this prediction will truly undercut where they can go. Senior Victoria Wasylak will lead the way again, but sophomores Anneka Paelink and Maeve Norton (5:44 mile this spring) will likely close the gaps to her. Junior Justine Morelli was the top mid-distance runner as well, giving the team key depth and balance.
7. EAST BRIDGEWATER- Everybody returns for the Vikings from their 8th place team at DVI in 2011, and there are some signs that a move Northward could be expected. Alycia Cutter broke 21:00 at EMass and serves as a solid #1 runner. They then have a tight pack of upperclassmen, including Nicole Bowen, Rachel Hatch, Kerry Cullinan, and Jocelyn Bates, all of whom ran within a minute of one another at Franklin Park. If that whole pack shift up 20-30 seconds, this could be an All State-contender.
6. LYNNFIELD- Lexi Buonfiglio ran 5:11 this spring, and after a modest 19:59 clocking in EMass in the fall, went 19:23 at All states. She appears poised to be the breakout star for the Pioneers if not across the whole state. But, for Lynnfield to get back to All States, they’ll need some help. They beat W. Bridgewater by 2 points, and WB is so young, they simply have to improve. With Sammy Albanese gone, it will fall on Angelica Kartsounis to carry the pack. Should Abby Norwood (12:04 this spring) join the party, this becomes a really tough team.
5. WEST BRIDGEWATER- I was unsure of where to put these Wildcats, mostly because their youth last year makes them just horrifying to their opponents. Imagine scouting your division and finding out that the 5th place team from 2011 returns its top 5 runners, four of whom will be either a freshman or sophomore, and missed All States a year ago by 2 points. Freshman Allison Wyman will be just that good, going 8th in 2011 and showing no signs of slowing this spring. The next group will be sophomores Emma Cashman, Charlotte Allen, and Carly Freitas, and there are more where they came from. Look out!
4. IPSWICH- In a wide-open DVI race, the Tigers could end up anywhere between winning it all and finishing 6th. There’s just no room for error by a team with a 1-2 of the Kerian sisters that could end up scoring something like 10 points. Kellie Roach and Annie Zampietella were good at EMass, each in the top-65, but the team placed 6th because its gap from #2 to #3 was far too big. While the Keirnan’s can’t carry them all the way, that 1-2 punch can go a long way.
3. URSULINE- Tom Shaw’s Bears are the first team on the list I can say would not surprise me one bit if they won this meet, which ought to feature a four-way battle for the top spot. Nora Griffin’s graduation leaves the star duties to Megan Grela, who has sub-20:00 5K experience and top of the line DVI ability. Senior classmate Maddie Wolfe could also be in the mix for the team’s top spot. A solid group of youngsters, led by sophomore Erin Harten (12:14 two mile this spring) should tighten the pack up. 3rd a year ago, can these girls break through that ceiling and earn a trophy?
2. NORWELL- The Clippers, despite having no definitive #1 runner, are a pack of #2 and 3 runners that every coach hopes to have duking it out each day at practice. Coach Chuck Martin knows that what he gets out of juniors Lauren Humphries and Kristen Gaudreau and seniors Vanessa Lyle, Margaret Hayes, and Sarah Perfetuo will be close-knit and high quality. D-S might have the heavy hitters up top, but Norwell could sneak by them, as they almost did a year ago. This should be far from a walk in the park for anybody, and should the Clippers’ pack improve a bit, they might be hoisting a gold-laden trophy this year, as their indoor and outdoor track teams did last year.
1. DOVER-SHERBORN- Personally, I don’t see any way this team gets beaten on paper, with Lee Milne a top-3 runner, and the pack as deep and strong as anyone’s in this division. Milne, after a so-so result at EMass, came back to simply rock Franklin Park at All States, racing to an 18:51, good enough for 6th overall. Given her 11:13/5:13 spring, she’s no longer just a candidate to win EMass, she might just win the whole thing. Olivia Cannon gives her the #2 she needs, having gone under 20:00 herself at EMass (placing 4th) and All States. Perhaps there is some concern that the next group is too far back, but Michelle Allesandro, Audrey Lewis, and Julia Pearson were all tightly packed around 21:30-22:00, and should improve for this team, who seems to always be on the podium.