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Concord girls cross country eyes top spots, boys aim for new beginnings

Asked about the best girls’ cross country teams in Division I, Concord High Coach Lyn Vinskus included her Crimson Tide among the top four along with defending state champ Londonderry, Manchester Central and Bishop Guertin.

“All of the girls on the team are dedicated and motivated to do well,” said Vinskus, now in her fourth year as head coach. “They take cross country seriously, but they’re able to have fun and enjoy themselves, too.”

The Tide showed some of their potential in Saturday’s season-opening meet at Hollis-Brookline High, running away with first-place in the eight-team event by placing their top six runners in the top 10. Yes, Concord was the only D-I team at the meet, but the Tide’s 33 points halved the total of 66 from second-place Oyster River.

As expected, senior Smita Boesch-Dining paced the Tide, finishing third overall. Boesch-Dining was fifth overall in last year’s D-I championship meet, finishing in 19:23 and leading Concord to a fifth-place team result. Three of the runners who finished ahead of her at that race have graduated (Exeter’s Shannon Burke, who took third, is now a junior), so Boesch-Dining is one of the contenders for the individual D-I crown this year.

In order for the Tide to move up in the final team standings, however, it will need the rest of the team to get a little closer to its leader. And the coach thinks that will happen.

“I believe we will be able to decrease the gap between our No. 1 runner and the two-through-seven pack,” Vinskus said. “We have a good clump of girls who will push each other to excel.”

That second pack includes sophomore Michaella Conery, sophomore Kate Andy and junior Erin Waters, who finished 38th, 39th and 47th, respectively, at last year’s D-I meet. And they were back at it on Saturday as the Concord runners swept the 6-10 spots at Hollis-Brookline. Waters (sixth) and Conery (seventh) were at the front of that pack, finishing just one second apart at 21:44 and 21:45. The next group – freshman Cassie Shea, Andy and sophomore Fiona MacWhinnie – came in about 15 seconds later.

Not only does the Tide have a good mix of veteran and incoming talent, it has some solid depth as well in juniors Kaelin Willette (19th on Saturday), Hope Morrison (56th in the 2012 D-I meet) and Samantha Pearl (60th at the D-I meet), as well as senior Sabrina Williams.

While the girls’ team is basically back intact, it’s almost a complete overhaul for the Concord boys’ cross country team, starting with first-year head coach, Tristan Black-Ingersoll.

Black-Ingersoll ran for the Tide before graduating in 2007 and then continued his cross country career at Bates College. He’s never coached the sport, but he’s grateful for the opportunity.

“It’s exciting to be able to work with some young kids and share my experience and enthusiasm,” Black-Ingersoll said.

And it is a very young Concord team. Only two of the runners who finished among the Tide’s top seven at last year’s D-I meet (Concord was seventh overall) are back on the team this year, and 12 of the 15 on the 2013 roster are either freshmen or sophomores.

The biggest loss from last season is B.J. Smith, who finished first overall at the 2012 D-I meet. But his brother, Pepper, is back and looking strong. The junior was seventh overall in Saturday’s meet at Hollis-Brookline, leading Concord to a fifth-place team result. He finished the race in 18:12, nearly 20 seconds better than his opening time from last season.

“Pepper clearly will be the strongest runner on the team, and I think he can be one of the top runners in the state,” Black-Ingersoll said. “He’s a great person to have in that position on our team. He’s positive and upbeat, and he’s very accessible to the everybody, especially the younger kids who are newer to the sport.”

Freshman Alex Saveliev was Concord’s second fastest runner last weekend, finishing 22nd overall in 19:33, and Black-Ingersoll believes that Smith, Saveliev and Michael Alexander should be the Tide’s top three runners this season. Alexander is one of three senior captain along with James Coles and Ryan Storo.

Jamie Nelson, who is the only other returner from last year’s top seven, Brad Hicks and Cal Mackenzie, all sophomores, are likely to score points for the Tide in most events this year. But nothing is guaranteed with such a young team.

“I think as the season goes along we’ll get a better sense of what the top seven will look like,” Black-Ingersoll said. “There’s a lot to be discovered.”

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3371 or tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)

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