Concord boys’ cross country enters season with lofty expectations

  • Concord High boys' cross country coach Tristan Black-Ingersoll gets his team ready for the Division I state championships at Derryfield Park in Manchester on Saturday. His team can be seen in the reflection of his sunglasses. MICHELLE BERTHIAUME

  • Concord’s Forest MacKenzie finishes first at the 2017 D-I meet. Monitor file

  • Concord’s Forest MacKenzie approaches the finish line with teammates Eli Boesch-Dining and Ollie Spencer in position to take second and third place during the 2017 Division I boys’ cross country championship. Monitor file

Monitor staff
Published: 9/5/2018 11:48:53 PM

The 2017 season for Concord High boys’ cross country team was historic.

The Crimson Tide won its first Division I title since 1981, posting the best score of any champion team in at least 30 years The Tide followed that up with a Meet of Champions title where its top five runners set an MOC record for the best average time (15:53.92).

Despite those amazing achievements, the last emotion Concord felt in the 2017 season was disappointment after it finished fifth in the New England meet. That disappointment has led to a clear goal for 2018 – win a New England title.

“We were pretty disappointed in how New Englands went,” Concord head Coach Tristan Black-Ingersoll said. “We really thought that we would be competitive to win the meet. It was obvious that you can be pretty strong in New Hampshire, but New Englands is totally different. It’s such a high level.”

Concord has the ability to compete at that level, thanks to the return of seniors Forest MacKenzie and Eli Boesch-Dining, who finished first and second in D-I as part of a 1-2-3 Tide finish. The last time that happened in D-I was when Concord swept the top five places and won the title in 1963.

The Tide also return juniors David Cook and Ryan Devine, who ran on last year’s championship team.

Another top returning runner is Aidan O’Hern who saw some varsity time, but did not run at the D-I championship and MOC, despite posting 5K times in under 17 minutes and mile times as low as 4:25, which speaks to the depth of Concord’s roster.

“If I were going to guess, I would say Aidan, Forest and Eli would be 1-2-3 … but the top 12 will be very competitive,” said Black-Ingersoll. “We have 12 guys running at a varsity level who can run in the 16-minute range, given the right conditions.”

Other runners in that top 12 include sophomores Eben Bragg and Brayden Kearns, who were close to the top seven last year as freshmen, but just missed out due to the Tide’s depth.

Sophomores Aiden Gleason and Ryan Ciesluk are also in the mix. The pair was running 5Ks in the 20-22 minute range last season, but by the end of last spring’s outdoor track season, both were running mile times of low 4:50s and high 4:40s, on pace to smash their 5K times from last year.

“I’ve been blown away at how much stronger the runners are than they were a year ago,” Black-Ingersoll said. “The levels of fitness and training sessions compared to a year ago … I’m very impressed with the level of work and consistency.”

Black-Ingersoll has seen major shifts in the culture of the program since he took over in 2013 when Concord finished 16th in D-I. Rather than viewing themselves as simply cross country athletes, the team sees itself as a group of runners year-round. The majority of the team competes in cross country, indoor track in the winter and outdoor track in the spring, one of the only ways Concord can compete against the best in New England.

“Schools have different advantages. Some have 3,000 kids, some are prep schools, some have runners coming from several communities, but if you can create an environment that can not only inspire, but also motivate, that can be unique,” Black-Ingersoll said. “Every day they are so excited about how much stronger they are.”

Freshmen Matt Lavoie, a strong track runner for Rundlett Middle School, and John Murphy, the top runner from last year’s Deerfield middle school team, could also challenge for a varsity spot, as could German exchange student and triathlete, Joseph Mueller.

One advantage the Tide have is that this year’s New England Championship will be run at Manchester’s Derryfield Park, the site of all NHIAA division championships, and also the site of the prestigious Manchester Invitational, which draws teams from across the northeast. Not only will the Tide compete in the D-I championships and the Manchester Invitational this fall, it will also run in a tri-meet at Derryfield Park next Tuesday. All of that extra experience on the Derryfield Park course should pay off come New Englands.

Although expectations aren’t as high for the Concord girls’ team, that squad has goals of its own.

“I have never been more proud of a team,” said Concord girls’ head coach Ally Davis, who is in her fourth year as the coach. “These girls have shown me dedication and commitment to this team at a new level. It’s inspiring to watch and be a part of. We’re coming into this season with no burdens of expectations, but I think we are going to surprise some people.”

The Tide finished eighth in the girls’ D-I meet last year, one place shy of qualification for the Meet of Champions.

Sophomore Morgane Orcutt, the top runner last year as a freshman, finished 16th in D-I and 16th at MOC to qualify for New Englands. Seniors Hannah Barton and Sarah Zarakotas, junior Serena Britos and sophomore Hannah Willette are the other top returners. Freshmen Katherine Kennedy and Abby Goulas, and sophomore Katie Watt are the top newcomers.

Both teams open their seasons today as the hosts of the Cofrin Classic, which will be run at NHTI.

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