The 2015 Western Massachusetts Divisional Championship
Division 1 Girls
Although just a freshman, Sophi Jacobs-Townsley of Amherst looks poised to capture her first individual Western Mass. title on Saturday. After two straight years of individual Amherst victories, last year's crown fell to her crosstown rival, Northampton's (Mariel Lutz). While I'm sure that will serve as some motivation, Townsley will also be looking to capitalize after an unfortunate course direction error at last weekend's PVIAC Champs. Leading the race with little less than a mile to go, Townsley took a wrong turn at Stanley Park and unfortunately had to settle for 2nd in 18:56. Despite the mistake, Townsley has definitely proven she has what it takes to win this weekend. At her home season opener in September, Sophi put up a strong 2nd-place finish in 18:47. And a few weeks ago at Brown, she looked solid running 18:12 to place 4th in Varsity D1 Race. Despite last weekend's mistake, Sophi Jacobs-Townsley should be the favorite to the win on Saturday and now has a very good idea of the divisional championship course.
As a senior and top returner from last year's race, Erica Dean of Northampton will try to challenge Jacobs-Townsley for individual glory. Though at the start of the fall Dean was running a bit behind her junior year performances, the Northampton senior seems to be rounding into form at the right time. At the Twilight meet, Erica clocked in at 18:55 to take 15th place overall (35 seconds faster then 2014 performance) and last weekend she placed 5th in 19:21 at the PVIAC Champs. It might be tall order for Dean to overthrow Jacobs-Townsley, but she is a veteran runner who will be well prepared come Saturday in Westfield. Another up-and-coming talent that could be mixing it up with Dean is freshman Erin Dustin of Agawam. This first-year harrier has had only a few races this fall, but performed quite well last weekend at PVIACs, taking 7th in 19:25--only four seconds behind Dean.
While they might not be in contention for the individual victory, the Northampton crew of Leila Markosian, Evelyn Burke, and Stephanie Jordan should provide a strong support network for their front-runner. Heather Leckey of Minnechaug, Mackenzie Werenski of South Hadley, and Augusta Fricke of Amherst will also be mixing it up with that Northampton trio and eyeing top 10 finishes.
There will be little doubt regarding which team will walk away with the 2015 Western Mass D1 Divisional title. The young ladies from Northampton should easily defend their title and quite possibly put five scorers in the top 10. The Lady Hurricanes of Amherst will have a solid front-runner in Jacobs-Townsley and a few other low sticks, so they should be a lock for 2nd. The fight for 3rd will come down to South Hadley and Westfield.
Division 2 Girls
Though the DI races are typically viewed as the main attraction of the Western Mass Divisional Champs meet, we think this year's D2 Girls race will be the star of the show! Coming hot off their respective conference championship victories, Emily Tibbets of Lenox Memorial and Taylor Blow of Hampshire Regional will meet for the first time this season on Saturday at Stanley Park. While these two have yet to face off, they have both been having strong senior year campaigns. Entering the divisional meet as the defending champion, Tibbets of Lenox has been looking ready to repeat all fall. Not making her first major invitational appearance until the Bay State Meet, Tibbets ran decently in the Goff Race and took 11th in 19:01. The following week, Emily was back in action at the Twilight Meet to clock a nice,18:20 performance to take 6th in the D2 race. Two weeks ago in the Berkshires, the Lenox senior defended her league title easily and won in 19:33. Following a similar upward trajectory, Blow of Hampshire started off the fall with a20:00 performance to take 14th at the Amherst Invitational. In mid-October, Taylor clocked in a 19:35, 8th-place performance at Franklin Park for the Catholic Memorial Invitational. Blow's breakout race came two weeks ago at Stanley Park during the PVIAC Champs, when she took down a strong field and won her first title in 18:51. These two evenly-matched competitors will provide a great source of entertainment and it should be a race that comes down to the final homestretch.
A possible wrench in both of these young ladies' plans for victory could come from another runner wearing the maroon and gold of Lenox. Emma Jourdain has been right next to Tibbets all season long and finished in front of Tibbets by one second at Bay State. The following week, Jourdain was a few seconds behind Tibbets at the Twilight Invitational, but still clocked in a fine race of 18:27, finishing 6th in the D2 race. Looking to also provide support for her teammate, Ally Ruessling of Hampshire should be right up front in the lead pack. Ruessling led the team in early September at the Amherst Invitational with her 19:00, 4th -place performance. In mid-October, Ruessling was out in front again for Hampshire and clocked in a 19:31, 7th-place finish at the Catholic Memorial Invite. While Ruessling finished as the #2 runner at the PVIAC Champs in a time of 19:07, she is still certainly a threat for victory on Saturdayat Stanley Park. Youngsters Margo Smith of Mt. Greylock and Maggie Sorrentino of Lenox will also be looking put up a fight and show their underclassmen spunk.
As the current #2 small school in the state, the girls from Lenox will head to Westfield in hopes of defending their divisional championship team title. Returning to Westfield will be all of the girls from last year's squad that went an impressive 1-2-4-5-15 in the team scoring. It certainly won't be an easy task to take down this heavily-favorite team, but the girls from Hampshire are rounding into form at the right time and could potentially pull it off. Two weeks ago at the PVIAC Championship, Hampshire performed very well to easily beat Amherst and finished just a few points behind Northampton. Seeing as the Red Raiders of Hampshire have a comparable 1-2 punch to Lenox, they will definitely need strong performances from their 3-5 runners if they want to pull off the upset. Duking it out for 3rd and 4th place will be Holyoke Catholic and Mohawk Trail Regional.
Division 1 Boys
Making his final appearance at the Western Mass. Divisional Championship, Liam Sullivan of Northampton should be well prepared to defend his 2014 title. At the start of this fall, Sullivan opened up his senior year campaign with a strong 2nd-place finish at the Amherst Invitational. After that performance, we didn't see Sullivan competing again until his 16:37 victory at the Catholic Memorial Invite. These two early season performances were certainly strong and respectable, but eventually we saw a breakout performance by Sullivan under the lights in Barnstable. In a race that was comprised of the best runners from across the state, Sullivan relied on his senior experience and was able to pull off a superb victory with his time of 15:16. This was undoubtedly a career race for Sullivan and elevated his status among the top runners in the state. So what does that mean for Saturday's divisional meet? Well, Sullivan raced pretty much the same exact field at PVIAC Championship and won by 18 seconds. Given that result, we expect Sullivan to easily walk away with another title and gain even more valuable experience on the all-state course.
Now just because Sullivan might be the class of the field, he will still have some respectable company in the early stages of the race. One challenger on Saturday will be his friendly cross-town rival, Owen Wright of Amherst. These two Pioneer Valley seniors have faced off quite a bit over the year and while Sullivan might have a slight advantage, Wright is still a formidable competitor. Owen's best racing certainly has been during the second half of this season, as he won the D1 Race at Brown in 16:01 and finished runner-up to Sullivan at PVIAC Champs running 16:08. As these two have squared off quite a bit, Wright definitely knows what it will take to beat Sullivan and will use that to his full advantage on Saturday. Looking to mix it up in the lead pack will be Cameron Correia of Holyoke. One of Correia's best races of the year came at the Twlight Invitational where he took 14th place and clocked in at 15:56. Another strong performance came just at the end of October when Correia finished two seconds behind Wright and grabbed 3rd place at PVIAC Champs. While he might have floated under the radar this year, Dean Vogel of West Springfield showed he is ready for the championship meets. After limited action, Vogel showed up ready to race at the PVIAC Champs and took a strong 4th place in 16:13. This was Vogel's best race of the year, so expect him to be ready once again on Saturday and eyeing another top 5 finish. Looking to support their front-runner, Cameron Correia, Bryan Dec and Izalen Lugo should also be mixing it up that lead pack. Hoping to join them will be Alex Perkins of Longmeadow and Tyler Bernier of Minnechaug.
The race for the top DI team in Western Massachusetts will be a thrilling and exciting contest. Right off the bat, Northampton is the defending Western Mass. Champs and they'll be coming off their PVIAC Champs victory. Unlike last year, though, when the Blue Devils won PVIACs by seventeen points over Amherst, this year they only held off Amherst by a mere two points at the conference meet. This will set the scene on Saturday for another close battle between two great rivals. If that wasn't enough excitement, the Holyoke boys could very well spoil the fun for both squads. They boast a strong 1-3, which will potentially become a strong 1-4 with the addition of Joel Ramos back in the lineup. Ramos has been absent for a majority of the season, but will be back in action on Saturday at Westfield. This is certainly a game changer, as Ramos took 15th last year at this meet and could be in the top 10 this year if he is fit. After these three squads, West Springfield and Pittsfield should battle it out for 4th and 5th, respectively.
Division 2 Boys
Last year's D2 race was senior-heavy, but this year's race will only feature three returners from the top 10 in 2014. Don't fret too much though, because we will still be treated to a great battle among some of Western Massachusetts' finest. Looking to lead the charge from the gun will be Tommy Kirby of Mount Greylock Regional. While Kirby hasn't really raced much out of Berkshire County, he has still had a strong senior season. We saw the Mt. Greylock leader put up a nice performance across the border in NY, running 16:00 to take 4th in the D1 race at the competitive Burnt Hills Invitational. Keeping the fast times rolling, Kirby dominated the competition at the Berkshire County League Meet last month and ran 16:35 to win by almost 30 seconds. As top returner and toeing the line after a dominating victory at his league meet, Kirby will be the favorite for the individual title on Saturday.
If somebody will challenge the senior Mountie from Berkshire County, expect Henry Domnarski of Palmer to be up for the task. Domnarski was 10th last year at this meet and has already proven to be a much better runner this fall. This was evident at the PVIAC Meet where Henry battled well with some strong Western Mass. D1 runners and ran16:23 to take 5th. Also looking to elevate his game on Saturday will be Brendan Markey of Cathedral High School. Markey's season so far has consisted of strong races at Frank Kelley (17:11) and the Catholic Memorial Invite (17:23), while also leading Cathedral with his 16:56, 12th -place performance at the PVIAC meet. In addition to these top harriers, Evan Arthur of Mount Greylock, Jack Mulcahy of Cathedral, and Connor Meehan of Drury will also be up with the leaders battling for top spots.
Last year, Mt. Greylock put together a terrific run during the Championship season and took down Lenox at both the Berkshire County Meet and Western Mass. Division Champs. While graduation hit the Mounties of Mt. Greylock hard, they will still be in the running for another team title on Saturday. They have a great low stick in Tommy Kirby and showed at the Berkshire County Meet that they have plenty of bodies to cover their losses. Though will that be enough to overcome the challengers from Cathedral? It's going to be close, but right now Cathedral looks very strong and could have a much tighter spread between their 1-5 runners. If Cathedral races to their full potential on Saturday, they will depart Stanley Park as Champions. Lenox, Mohawk Trail Regional, and Frontier will round out the top 5 teams.