Jamie Wilkes had never run competitively before his freshman year at Concord High.
But after four years and countless miles on city roadways, the Crimson Tide’s lone senior will graduate as one of the state’s top distance runners.
Wilkes helped lead Concord to a runner-up finish at the Division I championship for the first time since 2004, and lead his team its first trip to the New England championship in six years. Not since Olympic marathoner Guor Marial was dawning crimson and white has the program matched both feats.
Concord’s senior captain didn’t run his best on Manchester’s hilly Derryfield Park course during the D-I meet, though his 16:29 mark was still good for seventh place – two spots behind teammate Forest Mackenzie. The remaining Tide scorers all placed within the top 25 for a team score of 64 points, but it was Pinkerton – with a tough-to-top two runners in the top 4 – who clinched a second straight title by a slim four points.
“We were more successful than any Concord High program has been in the past decade or so, so you can’t be upset with that,” said Wilkes, the team’s top finisher in all but four races in 2016.
Despite his success the previous spring during outdoor track – capped by a runner-up finish in the 1,600 finals at the D-I championships – Wilkes headed into the fall a relative unknown on the cross country circuit. After all, he had missed the majority of his junior season due to injury.
But that all changed in September with perhaps his best race of the season during the Manchester Invitational, also held at Derryfield Park. In a meet that draws teams throughout the Northeast and from as far as California, Wilkes raced his way to a fourth-place finish in 16:17. He was the second New Hampshire runner to cross the line, and placed ahead of four of the six runners who went on to beat him the following month at the division championship.
For Concord Coach Tristian Black-Ingersoll, the result was proof to everyone in his program that buying in and hard work can, in fact, have its benefits.
“Anytime you have a runner invest in the process and show improvement over time, it is a benefit to the program,” said Black-Ingersoll, who added that Wilkes regularly ran in the upper 19-minute range as a freshman.
Concord won the 38-team Manchester Invitational behind solid finishes from the remainder of its varsity seven, and immediately jumped from a top-four team in the state rankings to a legitimate championship contender. Weeks later, Wilkes led his Tide teammates to yet another impressive win, crossing the tape first in the annual Capital Area Championship at Merrimack Valley High School in 16:35 to help his team avenge back-to-back runner-up finishes in the meet.
And while the Tide couldn’t go on to capture their first D-I title since 1981, the team still extended its season two additional weeks with berths in the Meet of Champions – a true state championship featuring the top teams from all three divisions – and the New England championships.
Wilkes placed 11th at the MOC at Nashua South’s Mines Falls course in 16:09 – one spot and one second behind Mackenzie – and a week later crossed the line as Concord’s top finisher at the New England championships in Rhode Island in 55th place in 16:29.
“This is for sure going to be a season to remember for me,” Wilkes said. “I think I'm really going to remember the camaraderie and cohesiveness of the team.”