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.
t appears the (girly country) theme some of Eastern Mass. XC in 2012 is “Wide Open Spaces”, as almost every class enters play in September with no real clear-cut favorite, with the exception of Whitman-Hanson and Bishop Feehan’s girls’ teams. However, DII boys takes the cake in many ways, as no dominant team appears on the radar, and as many as 6 or 7 teams look capable of stealing it when all is said and done. Defending champion Lincoln-Sudbury loses two top 10 runners, as well as 5 of its top 7, making a repeat contingent upon bringing along new blood. They barely even crack the top-10, although I know they will bring along some track talent, but I can’t assume which guys will come over. Runner-up Mansfield loses a pair of top-12 runners, and 2011’s 4th place team, Marshfield, loses all-everything dup Kevin Thomas and Joel Hubbard, the division’s top two runners a year ago. The top teams will likely shift, with Needham, Chelmsford, Masconomet, and Central Catholic bringing back serious contenders. It’s anybody’s guess who takes it, but here goes mine…
As wide open a division as there is in the state, DIII EMass will be a war from the time the gun goes off until the 100th runner crosses the line. This meet will come down to depth, 5th runners on several teams, and team pack tactics. For this reason, coaching will play a major part in who comes out on top, especially with a relatively new course being used for the meet. With the top 5 finishers from 2011 graduating, the race at the top will also be anybody’s guess, although picking favorites will be much easier there. Every top-9 team from last year loses at least 3 of its top 7 runners, with Walpole getting hit hardest by the graduation of six of its top group. All this means is that it truly will be a meet without a solid favorite, and that anybody’s guess as to who will win this thing is foolish. Always willing to look like a fool, here I go…
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.
Newburyport was the runaway team champion in 2011, scoring a low 70 points, and has 4 of the top 20 returners in the race, making them the favorites once again. However, Martha’s Vineyard brings back the whole gang from its 3rd place team a year ago, making the Newburyport edge by the narrowest of margins. On paper, these are the top two teams by a good amount, with Westwood taking a big hit to graduation and most teams in search of their 4 and 5 runners in the early stages. One team to take a long look at is Old Rochester, a team that was 5th a year ago, the dreaded spot in EMass that does not move on to All States. They ought to move up, thanks to Mike Wyman and a solid group under 18:30.
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.
BOYS PREVIEW The Wachusett boys probably think that the wild card slot that Eastern Mass. Coaches lobbied for and got two years ago would have come in handy in 2011 CMass. At the “Big 9 Iron” in Gardner, despite Colin and Jeremy Bennie’s 2-3 finish, the Mountaineers ended up with 100 points and had to settle for 4th, watching Shrewsbury, St. John’s, and Nashoba duke it out in a epic battle, all three landing within 10 points. St. John’s snuck away with the victory, thanks in part to junior John Green winning the individual title, by only three points over Nashoba. Once again, it appears these will be the top four teams, but with heavy graduation losses by each, the order could change a great deal. One thing seems unmistakable- Bennie and Green are in for a duel that will be talked about for years to come.
A meet that was once owned by Bromfield, during the tenure of Henry Phelan and slightly beyond, the CMass DII meet is now more of an up-in-the-air affair, with Bromfield finishing 7th in 2011 and failing to qualify for the All State meet for the first time in anyone’s memory. Tyngsborough and Narragansett staged an epic battle at Gardner’s Municipal Golf Course a year ago, one in which Tyngsborough escaped with a nine-point win. Perhaps most striking from that race was its youth, featuring more freshman (8) and middle schoolers (5, including a 6th grader!) in the top 30 than seniors graduating (6). The story most likely will be the same as in 2011, these two teams doing battle, with others like Sutton, Bromfield, and Notre Dame (Worcester) duking it out for 3rd. But, as has been stated time and time again, who knows what such a young field from 2011 will do in a year’s time? Who knows where they will improve and who will have a setback? If nothing else, CMass DII will be very intriguing to watch in 2012.
Had this been set up as a dual meet, Westfield vs. Western Mass. DI, Westfield could very well have sealed it by going 1-2-3 with Blake Croteau, Matt Jacobson, and Tim Dostie, and needing not to rely on its pack to come through at all. Since it isn’t a dual meet, you can bet that Westfield will be looking to develop its middle pack of 4-5-6 to stay on top of the crowd at Northfield. In 2011, the three juniors were all in the top 8, but big gaps to #4 and #5 left the Bombers 3rd, behind perennial powerhouse Amherst and Ludlow. Amherst graduates its top 5 runners, and while they can never be counted out, are also no longer the favorites. Ludlow loses individual champ Daniel Crowley, but brings back a strong team from its runner-up squad. With potential cracks in the Amherst armor showing, it will be up to those two teams, as well as possibly a Northampton or a Holyoke to dethrone the Western Mass. Powerhouse in 2012.
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.