CROSS COUNTRY PREVIEW- EAST DIVISION IV
On paper, and heck, in reality, the two best teams in the entire state reside right here in this division. Pembroke and Bishop Feehan each return squads that boast a sub-16:30 five-man average…. No other team in Mass. brings back a team under 17:00. However, one of these two teams, just as in 2011, can’t win its own division. Perhaps, as in 2011, they will split the trophies. Then, Pembroke narrowly escaped EMass with a 49-54 decision, only to watch in horror as the Shamrocks swept the leg at All States, 59-61. Coach Greg Zopatti of Pembroke and Coach Bob L’Homme of Feehan have had this back-and-forth going for a few years now, and this one will be no different. You have to feel for Steve Infascelli and his Sandwich squad, a team good enough to win many meets, and historically many class meets, who looks a distant 3rd on paper against these two Regional-powerhouses. There are other really good teams in this division, Hingham comes to mind, that just don’t seem close to those top two.
The top two runners returning from a class decimated by graduation are both Pembroke Titans- Christian Stafford and John Valeri. Stafford appears to have the inside track on being the runaway winner, but Feehan’s Henry Dodge will have something to say about that as well. Stafford’s 4:24 wheels make him appear to be too much to handle, as long as the race comes down to the final stretch. The flat, fast course of Wrentham seems to favor faster runners like him, so he’s the bet here. However, a week later, all bets are off on the Mountain, where the favorite coming in is rarely the champion going out.
TOP 10 TEAMS
10. WAKEFIELD- It isn’t just runner-up Stephen Robertson who the Warriors will miss, but his loss is enormous. The cupboard is far from bare, as junior Aaron Lucci will try to give Wakefield another top-10 finish, if not better, and Jared Gellar showed sub-18:00 promise in 2011. They simply need more from the pack, but at this point in the season, who doesn’t?
9. SOMERSET-BERKELEY- This is a bit of a darkhorse choice, as Somerset-Berkeley placed 25th in 2011. However, they did so without having their best team present on the day, so a huge leap forward is possible. It’ll take Darryn Cook, Mitchell Paiva, and Josh Goyette to bring the Raiders into the top-10, none of whom toed the line at EMass in 2011.
8. FOXBORO- Brendan Sullivan’s graduation leaves the Warriors without a true ace, but a core of returnees makes them a candidate to hold serve at 8th, same as in 2011. Senoirs Kevin Aldrich and Zach Downs had nice races at DIV a year ago, and Dean Mazzola, who didn’t race, is another who should shore up that group. Another to watch is sophomore Balazs Busznyak, who ran 4:46 in his freshman spring.
7. DIGHTON-REHOBOTH- Everybody knows who Ty Enos is at this point, having placed 18th in 2011, but someone who also ran 16:28 during his junior year. Alden Foelshe and Mike Varney are a great 2-3 behind Enos, and the Falcons can hope to move all the way up from 16th in 2011 into the top 10 in 2012.
6. MARBLEHEAD- Perhaps looking for some inspiration from alumnus Shalane Flanagan’s Olympic success, the Magicians will try to find some magic from a solid core of returners. Leading the way will be Nate Fowler and Chris Rodts, with Fowler having shown prowess on the track in 4:39. 6th a year ago, and losing their top two runners, staying put would be a sign of good things coming.
5. HINGHAM- Mike McConville’s graduation will be a hit for the 2011 wild card qualifying Harbormen, who should find a way to All States again thanks to Nick Nielsen’s ascension as one of the class’s best. Track success was aplenty for Hingham, winners of the outdoor DIII title, but in order to match that success on the trails, they will need huge improvements from Sam Mildrum and Corbin Robichaud.
4. HOPKINTON- The Hillies’ top 4 runners should be a senior quartet that all amassed big track seasons. Patrick Levenson and Corey Branch had monster track seasons, each running into the 4:30’s for the mile, and will be joined by classmates Max Joyce, Lincoln Brown, and Nick West. It will be a sort of “do it now” attitude in Hopkinton, as its entire top 7 might be from its senior class, making 2013 look like a rebuilding year. We’ve seen senior-laden teams take leaps forward before, and my guess is that this is one of those.
3. SANDWICH- You almost have to feel sorry for Coach Steve Infascelli and the Blue Knights. In most other classes, they would be spending the summer prepping to win a class title. But this is DIV and this is 2012, and 3rd in this class would be a major accomplishment. James Wegman and Harry Daniels-Koch appear to be the 1-2 punch you need to separate from the field in DIV, but there is some real depth present with Connor Guerin, Brian Chambers, Shon Koren, and James Silverman. Infa had these guys rolling on the track this spring, so expect a strong step forward.
2. PEMBROKE- The last loss they may incur this fall might just be the coin-flip they lost that dropped them to this slot. How does a team, twice qualifying for Nationals in Portland, OR, winners of two of the last three All State titles, the last four divisional titles, and recipient of the top two returning runners in the class, Stafford and Valeri, not earn the top mark? There’s nothing wrong with this team. After the dynamic duo, Patrick Cunningham is a potential top 5 kid, having returned to full-health despite a frightening eye injury in the spring. Billy Stafford, a stalwart on the All State champion 4x800 team that also ran an eye-popping 7:42 at nationals, will slide in at 4th. And although 5th is a bit of a question, guys like Pete Graceffa, Addison Fine, and Chris Warren are right there to do what Coach Z’s kids always seem to do- step in when it is needed.
1. BISHOP FEEHAN- The defending All State champions simply didn’t lose enough to be knocked from their perch on paper, although the Titans will be breathing down their necks all season long. The depth of this team was on display late, as top runner Henry Dodge labored to be the team’s 5th and 6th runner at the EMass and All State meets. Still, guys like Evan Grandfield, Alex Conway, and Mike Hanley found a way to get it done then, and should be looking to do the same. If there is a weakness, and if there is it’s only relative to Pembroke, it might be at #5, where John Dean is a sub-17:00 potential guy. Coach L’Homme is a master tactician and will have his boys ready to toe the line in November. My guess is that one of these two powerhouses wins EMass and the other All States, and the runner-up trophies follow suit.
DIV has been a coronation of sports for the Shamrocks of Bishop Feehan since the divisions realigned in 2009 (and, quite frankly, so has every division they have been in these past two decades). Coach Bob L’Homme might not have the stomach for a meet as close as the one he’ll have on the boys side with Pembroke, but for at least one week, he shouldn’t need it. This class belongs to the ‘Rocks, and there will be a spirited battle for 2nd place, but nothing more. Hingham, Dennis-Yarmouth, and Pembroke all look poised to earn trophies of their own, but on paper they can’t match the firepower of a team with five top-20 caliber finishers. With Feehan, the names always seem to change, but the results rarely do.
It is quite possible that the top three runners form this class also happen to be the top three runners at DII All States a week later. Last year’s All State champion, Jordan O’Dea of Dennis-Yarmouth, was able to run away from Bishop Feehan’s Abby McNulty down the stretch at Franklin Park. O’Dea’s 18:34 was the 2nd fastest time at the Park last fall, and McNulty’s 18:44 was 4th. In fact, on the day, only Cat Rocha of Peabody, Maggie Mullins of Andover, and McNulty’s teammate Katie Powell joined them in breaking 19:00 at EMass. Still, neither is the odds-on favorite, because Hingham’s Julie McConville will be in the mix. McConville missed most of the season to an injury, but came back firing on all cylinders, running 19:01 at All States, and then closing out her indoor season running 10:36 for 2 miles at Nationals, earning All-American status.
TOP 10 TEAMS
10. DANVERS- Catalina Dominick, a freshman in 2011, was the Falcons’ top runner, taking a run at a top-10 finish at EMass in the process. She seems to be keeping the momentum going, as her spring produced a 5:12 mile at the Coaches Invitational. Allison Barker is the #2 right now, but the gap to #3 and then again to #4 needs to tighten up.
9. PLYMOUTH NORTH- Nicole Borofski is a name everyone in the South Shore seems to know, but the Eagles need not only a top-10 finish from her (20:11 in 2011), but improvements from sophomore Sophie Gorton, who went 5:38 in the spring in order to get into the top 10 in DIV.
8. WAYLAND- The Warriors could move up from this spot, as Phoebe Morss is a top-10 candidate and freshman Molly Pierce ran 5:14 on the track in her class meet. As always, I won’t assume Pierce is joining the XC squad after a dominant track season, but if she does, the gap to the pack just closed down in a big way.
7. SOMERSET-BERKELEY- Kelsey McGinnis is the Raiders’ top harrier this season, and as her 5:27 mile in the spring would indicate, she’s ready for the challenge. Megan Lazaro, Cassidy Cabral, and Emily Graca provide the pack, and this group isn’t far off of a run for a top-5 spot. Look for another senior, Abbey Smith, to improve and be the 5th, unless someone comes out of the blue for Somerset.
6. SANDWICH- Coach Michael Lavers Blue Knights are hoping to improve on last year’s 10th place finish, and the return of junior Tory Sivco is a heck of start. She was 9th in 2011, and could move up to as high a 5th in 2012. The drop to #2 is significant, but it’s a drop to a pack of three. Hillary Gonneville and Lindsay McCauley will join sophomore Molly Kennedy in that pack, all of whom should find a way into the 21:00’s. A 5th will be searched for, but if it’s found, this squad should move upward.
5. HOPKINTON- Sophomore Shelby Aarden is another candidate for the win in this, the deepest class in the state as far as elite runners is concerned. She went 11:08 at All State’s in the 2 mile, so a sophomore slump seems unlikely. If Melissa Lodge, she of the 5:13 mile, were to join her this fall, the 1-2 punch for the Hillies would be dominant, and put them in the hunt for the #2 spot. As of now, I have to assume Lodge stays on the field, meaning MaryKate Cavanaugh will be asked to carry the torch up front behind Aarden. Nothing wrong with that… Cavanaugh went 12:02 this spring also.
4. PEMBROKE- A young squad in 2011, the Titans lose ace Chelsea Savage, off to Quinnipiac University. A huge track season from junior Caroline Kelley (12:31) gives them hope, and there are plenty of reinforcements. Sophomores Anna Devito, Erica Roy, Lauren Harnedy, and Courtney Garvey provide the bulk of the pack, along with junior Theresa James and senior Sarah harland. This entire group broke 6:00 in the spring, so even without a top-notch #1 candidate, they should make a run at Northfield.
3. DENNIS-YARMOUTH- With individual champion O’Dea back for seconds, DY hopes they are scoring 4 runners. Junior Mary Stafford, another top-15 contender, gives the Dolphins its #2, but the group of Lee Drown, Emma Harney, and Shelby Darrah need to provide a solid pack behind them. There’s no doubt that this team is a trophy contender, just like in 2011, but they’ll need help to do so.
2. HINGHAM- Julie McConville’s return to health is the most important factor for the Harborwomen to move up from 3rd a year ago to trophy status. She would be a threat for the individual win, and will be backed up by junior Morgan Sullivan in the top 10. #3-4 runners Maggie McFarland and Kelly Bandera return as well, giving Hingham hope for a run at Bishop Feehan. If someone like Rachel Allen steps in and closes the gap to 5th, this team has the makings of something special.
1. BISHOP FEEHAN- One has to go back to 2008 to find the last time the Shamrocks were beaten in-state, that at the All State Meet by Hamilton-Wenham. Since then, Feehan has simply dominated their division and has been basically unbeatable. No reason to believe anything will be different, since they return a sub-11:00 2 miler in McNulty, as well as Brianna Harum and Marybeth Nametz. The team isn’t without blemishes, as they will likely have to find a 4-5 connection from a group including Elizabeth Sieber, Adrienne Santoro, and others, but historically they have no trouble doing so, so the guess here is they will.