2012 Cross Country Preview- East Division I
A division that has been dominated by Brookline and Lowell for the past several years has opened up a bit, although I still see those as the top two teams. However, unlike in 2011, it would not be a complete shock to see another team on the podium. Brookline took EMass in 2011 by a paltry 8 points, and followed it up with their second consecutive All State title and 3rd in 5 years. With the losses of Mark Perry and Chernet Sisay, they take a hit. But Lowell loses Alexis Andujar and Nate McCarthy, their own top two. It will take some major improvements by Newton North, Acton-Boxboro, Lexington, or a trio of Catholic Conference teams in BC High, St. John's Prep, and Xaverian, to bring us back to 2008, the last time a team other than Lowell or Brookline won this division.
On paper, this should be a two-man battle between Methuen's Mike O'Donnell and Lexington's Nat Adams, each flirting with 16:00 at Franklin park a year ago, and the top two returnees. With Adams running 9:17 at All States this spring and O'Donnell clocking in at 9:29, neither has done anything to hand over their claim to the crown. However, this is DI, and there are far too many kids putting in 400 mile summers to be ignored. Weymouth's Nolan Parsley missed the spring season to an injury, but should be back to his indoor form, where he blazed a 9:26. Brookline has Aaron Klein, a guy who went 4:23 this spring, and Lowell has a bevy of guys who could contend for the title, including Patrick Coppinger (4:19 this spring) and Johnny Abraham, who missed most of the XC season in 2011 to an injury.
10. TAUNTON- With sophomore Andrew Doherty being shut down midseason for the Tigers, out the window went their chances for a first-ever All States appearance. However, the junior, who was in 2011 one of the top track freshmen in the state, is back to bring Taunton to the promised land. Joining Jason Henrich and Damian Collins, each top-25 potential guys, Doherty could put the Tigers in the hunt in this very deep class. It will take a big season from Scott Tran and improvements at #5, but the Tigers should be up for the challenge.
9. NEWTON SOUTH- Allen Shui has done his part to become a well-known commodity in Eastern Mass., and the Lions will need him to continue the momentum from his 9:41 outdoor season as a sophomore. Colin Pham and Dylan Shuler aren't far behind, and a nice spring from sophomores Thomas Stephens and Omri Cohen will help if they join the fold. South needs to tighten up the back end of their pack, but should have the depth to do so.
8. XAVERIAN- With Lucas Taxter, the Hawks have the rare benefit of being led by a sophomore to start the season. Taxter is not alone, though, as Robert Marcantonioand Tim Keohane, neither of whom raced at EMass, are presumably healthy and ready to go. Xaverian should move up from last year's 12th place finish, and will certainly be in the conversation with BC High and St. John's Prep for best in the Catholic Conference. They only lack a real low number right now, so look for Taxter to break out for the Hawks to move up.
7. BC HIGH- Ian O'Leary is a bona fide top man, something that these middle pack teams will desperately need when the places are being counted. O'Leary went 9:42 for the Eagles this spring, and leads a group that sounds more like the cast of the next South Boston Casey Affleck crime drama than a cross country team. Mike Flaherty, Jack Sweeney, Noel Feeney, and Tom O'Donnell all raced between 10:24 and 10:47 this spring, and with BC High having the whole gang back for 2012, they can be much better than even this ranking.
6. LEXINGTON- 6th a year ago, the Minutemen are a bit of a mystery, given how young they are and how much potential they have. Nat Adams is one heck of a starting point, but they have the goods beyond him as well. Sophomores Ben Martell and Ben Jacobson have closed the gap to Felix Cancre and Russell Gens, making this one of the only teams with five runners returning from Eastern Mass. under 17:45. While they missed All States by just one position a year ago, the Minutemen will not settle for that result once more.
5. ST. JOHN'S PREP- Coach Ray Carey, the last person other than Mike Glennon or Phil Maia to claim this division, might have the makings of something special in Danvers. 8th a year ago, the Eagles come back with their entire top 4 in tact, including Tim Loehner and Tom O'Shea, both potential top-20 guys, if not better. Colin Monahan and Liam Dow bring the total of top-40 guys to 4, and the best thing for Carey is that only O'Shea leaves him at the year's end. This could be the start of huge things to come in Danvers.
4. ACTON-BOXBOROUGH- The Colonials were 3rd in 2011, but lose star runner James Sullivan, a hit to their 119 point total. Tim Cox gives them what they need, a top of the line guy who can score in the single digits. Cox's 1:55 time at All States might have gone unnoticed in the 800, since everyone was wiping the drool from their chins after watching Josh Lampron complete his double, but it has plenty of significance on the fast course at Wrentham. Gabe Kline and Matt Bullock, the #1 and #3 freshmen in the race in 2011, as well as classmates Sam Toulman and Robert Davis, will join Dominic DeFuria, a guy who went 10:13 in 2012 to hold down the fort.
3. NEWTON NORTH- Jim Blackburn's teams are like great heavyweight fighters. Just when you start to count them out, they come back stronger than ever before. Most will believe that the Tigers are all done, having graduated top man Justin Keefe and coming in without a front-line top-10 type on the roster. However, at the Bay State Conference Meet in May, sophomores Gabe Montague and Mike Schlichting ran 4:26 and 4:27, putting to bed any doubts that NN is for real. Jon Long and David Demarest keep the pack close, but there is a need for improvement at #5.
2. BROOKLINE- One thing Mike Glennon knows how to do is find that diamond in the rough, a guy who other coaches might have written off, but he knows has the work ethic and makeup to turn himself into a great runner. With the departures of Sisayand Perry, Brookline appears as vulnerable as ever, but Glennon might just have everyone where he wants them- not believing in his team. The cupboard is far from bare, as proven by the spring of Aaron Klein, Jesse Fajnzylber's 4:29 clocking a year ago, and a group of guys like Alex Peebles-Cain, Jake Simon, Ben Pollock, and Aidan Lehane, any of whom could have already become the low-17:00 guys the Warriors need. Don't bet against this team.
1. LOWELL- And yet, after all I said, Brookline finds itself in the 2nd slot. This is simply because Lowell, and coaches Phil Maia and Scott Ouelette, are that good right now. Pat Coppinger, his 4:19 mile this spring withstanding, could win the meet, but doesn't have to. Mike Kalenoski and Nick McArdle are two of the top-10 guys returning, and Johnny Abraham should return after an injury cost him the better part of last fall. Lowell knows how to execute toward the end of the season, so even if they don't appear great early on, expect them to develop when the time is right. Like Brookline, the Raiders churn out great runners, and this batch might be its best ever.
As has been a theme for some of the previous classes, there is truly no best team in DI girls. Peabody will get the nod, but only because they have the benefit of scoring 4 places, thanks to Cat Rocha. Lexington brings back its entire top 5, including four sophomores, from the 6th place team. Newton South, led by Steve McChesney, has the makings of those great teams form 5-6 years ago that made back-to-back trips to Oregon. Acton-Boxboro has talent and can expect the usual influx of freshmen help. Lowell has the best top two returning maybe ever, although Weymouth can boast a pretty good one of its own. Newton North and Brookline will be better, as will North Quincy and Andover. In fact, the two-time defending champion Wildcats of Weymouth bring back 4 of their top 7, and don't even make the top-10. Talk about a class that is loaded with depth!
One place where there will be no drama will be the individual title. Catarina Rocha of Peabody put that to rest when she qualified for Footlocker Nationals, and then followed that up with a 10:36 blazer in Greensboro at the New Balance Nationals. While Rocha's walk in the park might be set, there will be loads of kids battling for 2nd, a battle that should have much significance in an incredible close race. Her teammates Sam Allen (5:21) and Lauren Barrett (5:29) could make things difficult for anyone else. Haverhill teammates Jackie Solimine (5:18) and Riley Gilmore (11:38), as well as Lowell's Erin Donovan (11:14) and Bryanna Allison (5:12) staked their claims to top-5 spots this spring, as did Weymouth's Molly Barker (11:14) and Ashley Betts (11:33). Newton South's Lucrecia Aguilar and Anna Rhatigan were already top-10 kids in 2011, and Andover's Leila Aruri (11:37) and Meghan McPhee will find their way into the top 15. A-B's Christine Davis is the #2 returner, and her 11:12 this spring could indicate a readiness to go even further under 19:00. North Quincy's Emily Bryson (11:25) and sister Julia are also top-10 types. It seems like having one top-20 runner will not be enough, as every contender really has two or more.
10. NORTH QUINCY- Emily Bryson and twin sister Julia are as good a sister act as it gets in Mass., and they will try to do their best to give Geoff Hennessey's Red Raiders a trip into the top 5 and a weekend in Northfield. Julia ran 12:13 this spring, proving that Emily is not the only top-notch runner in the family. They can't do it alone, but likely won't have to, as senior Danielle Mullaney (5:32) staked her own claim to success in the spring. Something is building in NQ, and if the pack follows, look out.
9. ANDOVER- Leila Aruri should have no trouble walking in the very large shoes Maggie Mullins has left behind for her. The junior has gone 11:37 and was 7th at EMass in 2011 XC. She's not alone either, as teammate Meghan McPhee could crack the top-20, after being 21st in 2011. They will need more, but Eliza Lewis and sophomore Sarah Rothman each look more than capable of giving the Warriors the kind of push that led them to a wild card berth a year ago. Look for them to start duplicating their immense track success on the trails real soon.
8. ACTON-BOXBOROUGH- A mystery team to many, we all know how good Christine Davis is, and how likely she is to take the 2nd spot. After that, sophomores Brooke Blackshaw (12:04) and Sophie Brown should be expected to improve, and senior Joling Campo has it in her to put forward an excellent season herself. Always a threat to grab some top freshmen, the Colonials might just have the best middle school feeder system in the whole state.
7. HAVERHILL- With what Riley Gilmore did for her stock this spring, this 1-2 punch just got really tough to beat. Jackie Solimine was always well-known, but Gilmore can stay on her hip for an entire race now, giving the Hillies the 1-2 punch that is really a prerequisite in such a deep class. Haylee Krenzer and Samantha Wise will be asked to hold down the fort, but right now, they need to improve at #5 to get into the discussion for All States.
6. NEWTON NORTH- The Tigers and Coach Brandon Mogayzel started showing signs of progress during their state championship indoor and outdoor track seasons, where the distance squad just kept getting better and better. Evie Heffernan ran 5:13 this spring, proving she should be in the discussion for individual runner-up with David and others. A pack of Maeve Greeley, Kaylee Spitaels, and Liz Rudie will help the Tigers compete for a spot at Northfield, and if they should add someone like sophomore Sonya Jampel, who ran 11:42 this spring, but played soccer in 2011, this is a dangerous team.
5. BROOKLINE- Coach Mike DeYoung's Warriors were just that in 2011- Warriors. Lacking a real ace at the top, the team bonded together and created a tight pack, finishing 9th in a deep division. Most of this crew comes back, all of whom have run under 6:00 and 13:00 in the track season. Charlotte Cole should be the ace again, rebounding to her 2010 form, where she was a sub-20:00 kid. The group of Jessica Lu, Sabrina Lee, and Mary Fuhlbrigge all raced under 21:00, and with enough improvement in that pack, could push them ever closer to the front. The only thing lacking is a top-10 type runner, but Cole could fit that role.
4. LOWELL- Allison's 5:12 mile time indicates that, on a flat course in Wrentham, if she's near just about anybody at the end, she will have the kick to get by them. Donovan rebounded from a subpar fall day at EMass, where her team was runner-up in 2011, to run 11:14 in the spring, the 3rd best time in the division. These two could score as few as 5 points, but they still need more from Marissa Richards (12:02) and Jessica Graham, each of whom appear to have plenty in the tank. Grace Ndungu burst onto the scene a year ago, so anything similar to that, and the Raiders will win.
3. NEWTON SOUTH- Steve McChesney knows when he has the goods, and 2012 and beyond appears to be his era. Rhatigan and Aguilar are just fine, will probably find themselves right in the top 10 again, and have plenty of depth behind them. Emily Caggiano, Margalit Glasgow, and Leda Olia put together encouraging spring seasons, and McChesney simply knows how to get the most out of his group. Add to that the fact that Newton South almost always has 1-2 impact freshmen at its fingertips, there would be no surprised faces in the crowd if they were hoisting a trophy on November 10th.
2. LEXINGTON- Saaya Maeda might be the team's top runner returning, having finished 6th a year ago, but the story for the Minutewomen will actually be their pack of sophomores, all of whom either broke or flirted with the 21:00 barrier as freshman at EMass in 2011. Leanne Go, Grace Vogelzang, Cassie Peterson, and Emma Houston give Lexington a veritable embarrassment of riches to feed off of. Lexington might have trouble with inexperience against veteran teams like Newton South, Peabody, and Lowell, but at times youth is bliss, and they have plenty of it to go around.
1. PEABODY- Scoring one point from your top runner is never a bad thing, and Coach Joe Rocha now has the stars to fill in behind daughter Catarina. Lauren Barrett and Sam Allen, each flying past the 5:30 mark in the spring, will give the Tanners three under 20:00. Sydney May is very solid at 4th, and while the gap to #5 appears large, if they can find somebody like Antonia Pagliuca or Mary Leach to join the party, this will be a tough team to beat. Peabody has been sort of pointing to this season for some time, Rocha showing patience that he will have the pieces to surround his daughter by this point. They're here, and they will be impossible to ignore.