Tide pack takes fourth for D-I girls
MANCHESTER – All season long, the strategy of the Concord High girls’ cross country team was to work together and run as a pack, a good strategy for a team that describes itself as “the teamiest team around.” The Tide matched its expectations, finishing the race in groups behind leader Smita Boesch-Dining, who finished fourth overall, as Concord finished fourth as a team to join the top eight Division I teams and top 30 Division I runners at next weekend’s Meet of Champions at the Mines Falls course at Nashua South High School.
Pepper Smith finished in 28th with a time of 17:05 as the boys’ lone representative at MOCs. The Concord boys finished 16th.
Winnacunnet’s girls (61) claimed top team honors, ahead of Bishop Guertin (80), Pinkerton (98), Concord (140), Nashua North (186), Bedford (196), Manchester Central (199) and Londonderry (229), the top eight of 17 teams vying for a berth at next weekend’s race. After finishing runner-up in seven of the past nine seasons, the Pinkerton boys, coached by former Bow High track Coach Michael Clark, claimed its first team crown since 1996 with a score of 97 points. Nashua South (141), Timberlance (143), Bedford (157), Londonderry (186), Alvirne (199), Merrimack (207) and Keene (213) advanced out of the 19-team field to MOCs.
While the Tide girls were hoping to possibly crack into the top three, Concord did well behind top-30 finishes from Boesch-Dining (19:29) and Erin Waters (26th, 20:14).
“I was trying to stick with the team and help the team qualify. I was with Cassie (Shea) and Smita for the first mile or two. We worked as a team to push each other,” Waters, a junior, said.
Meanwhile, Boesch-Dining was fighting with a pack of seven or eight runners for most of the race before pulling away on the field portion in the final half mile of the course to claim fourth.
“I really was just nervous, ’cause everyone was screaming, and I was like ‘I can’t let them catch me, because I really need that spot to help my team.’ … I was just pushing really hard and really wanted that finish line to come closer,” said the senior, adding that she was happy with the blustery conditions.
For Coach Lyn Vinskus, it was business as usual, as the team deployed its pack-running strategy, which was made more difficult given the competition of the Division I state meet.
“We did pretty well. At a meet like this, when there are so many top runners from all the large schools … there’s more girls in between us so our pack wasn’t as tight as in previous meets, but they still did well. Some girls didn’t have the race that they wanted to, but we’re strong, so other girls picked up the slack.”
Among those who stepped up for the Tide were Michaella Conery (35th, 20:39) and Samantha Pearl (36th, 20:41) who worked well together in front of freshman Cassie Shea (39th, 20:45). Conery broke her time from last year’s Division I meet by 22 seconds. Kate Andy (56th, 21:19) and Kaelin Willette (63rd, 21:32) also ran well.
Coach Vinskus and company are hoping that this season’s string of positive results continues next Saturday and that this time it may lead Concord to the New England championships.
“If we have a really good day and all our girls have the day of their season, we have a good chance of making it to the next week (New Englands),” she said. “That would be a stretch goal. It’s a good goal for them to have in their sights.”
The Tide boys, on the other hand, had set a more modest goal, but that’s not surprising considering that the team is rebuilding and lost last year’s defending Division I champion BJ Smith (Pepper’s older brother) to graduation.
“I think the key thing to remember with this group of kids is that last year BJ was on the team and he was the winner of the race, so from a points standpoint, losing that fundamentally makes a huge difference,” Concord boys’ Coach Tristan Black-Ingersoll said. “Having a kid who wins the state meet is more luck than coaching. A lot of that comes from within. Having said that, last year we were 14th and this year we were 16th, only dropping two places after losing the overall champion, so to basically be in the same place range is a good sign.”
After being the number two runner on the team behind his older brother, Pepper Smith ran well in the number one spot.
“I was relatively happy,” Smith said after qualifying for the Meet of Champions. “I was wanting to run a little bit faster.”
But the good news doesn’t stop there. Captain Michael Alexander (102nd, 18:48) is the only senior on the roster. Smith is a junior and the rest of the top seven is comprised of sophomores or freshmen.
“This is a very young group of runners. It’s going to be really exciting to see, what does this team do next year?” Black-Ingersoll said. “What I said to the kids as we lined up on the starting line was that ‘this is only the beginning.’ We’ve fully finished our transition year as underclassmen and moving away from being a team that was about having a dominant individual, it’s about a team running well as a group.”
On paper, a 16th-place finish is not impressive, but looking long term, things are coming together. Alex Saveliev, 14-year-old sophomore, ran a 18:16 at the Manchester Invitational on the same course, but ran a 17:26 yesterday, just finishing outside of MOC qualification in 39th place. Alexander and Jamie Nelson (103rd, 18:48) both ran around 30 seconds quicker than they did earlier this season. John Michael Neheme (114th, 19:18), Calgary Mackenzie (115th, 19:24) and Brad Hicks (116th, 19:27) also ran.