Local athletes making tracks from Concord High to UNH

  • Seniors Michaella Conery (right) and Elisabeth Danis compete for the University of New Hampshire women’s cross country team on Aug. 31 in Durham against Providence and Holy Cross. Danis, a Coe-Brown grad, finished fourth overall and Conery, a Concord High graduate, was eighth. They are two of several local runners who are competing, and succeeding, at UNH. MICHELLE BRONNER / Courtesy UNH Athletics

  • Senior Michaella Conery (26) competes for the University of New Hampshire women’s cross country team on Aug. 31 in Durham against Providence and Holy Cross. Conery, who was eighth overall, is an accomplished middle distance runner who has turned herself into a productive cross country performer, and she is one of several Concord High grads who are running, and succeeding, for UNH. MATTHEW TROISI / Courtesy UNH Athletics

  • Freshman Forest MacKenzie competes for the University of New Hampshire men’s cross country team on Aug. 31 in Durham. MacKenzie, a two-time Division I NHIAA individual champion, has found early success at UNH, just like several of his fellow Concord High graduates. MICHELLE BRONNER / Courtesy of UNH Athletics

  • Junior Jamie Wilkes competes for the University of New Hampshire men’s cross country team on Aug. 31 in a meet against Providence and Holy Cross. Wilkes finished 12th overall and second for UNH, which finished in second place as a team. Wilkes is one of several Concord High grads running at UNH. GREG GREENE / Courtesy UNH Athletics

  • AT LEFT: Junior Jamie Wilkes competes for the University of New Hampshire men’s cross country team on Aug. 31 in a meet against Providence and Holy Cross. Wilkes finished 12th overall and second for UNH, which finished in second place as a team. Wilkes is one of several Concord High grads running at UNH. GREG GREENE / Courtesy UNH Athletics

  • ABOVE: Senior Michaella Conery (26) competes for the University of New Hampshire women’s cross country team on Aug. 31 in Durham against Providence and Holy Cross. Conery, who was eighth overall, is an accomplished middle distance runner who has turned herself into a productive cross country performer, and she is one of several Concord High grads who are running, and succeeding, for UNH. MATTHEW TROISI / Courtesy UNH Athletics

Monitor staff
Published: 9/25/2019 7:50:19 PM

After competing against some of the best schools in the country and beating some of the best in the region in Saturday’s Coast to Coast Battle in Beantown, the University of New Hampshire men’s cross country team landed in the United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association northeast regional rankings for the first time in five years.

The Wildcats are taking a little extra pride in that Coast to Coast result (15th overall) and ranking (No. 13) because the top seven UNH finishers in Saturday’s race were all from New Hampshire. What’s more, three of them were from Concord High.

“We have a long tradition of in-state athletes being successful here at the University of New Hampshire, and that tradition is something we’re really proud of, so it starts with that,” UNH cross country and track coach Robert Hoppler said. “And the success of the Concord High program leads into that ... to have three of those top kids at the Coast to Coast be from Concord, that is pretty amazing.”

Those three former Crimson Tide runners were freshman Forest MacKenzie (the second UNH finisher and 54th overall), junior Jamie Wilkes (third UNH, 72nd overall) and senior Alex Saveliev (seventh UNH, 138th overall). And they are far from the only Concord High grads now running for the Wildcats.

On the men’s side, there’s also senior Matt Adams, sophomore Colin Conery, sophomore Nate Nichols, freshman Aidan O’Hern and sophomore Chris Pinkham, who also plays for the nationally ranked UNH men’s soccer team.

Concord grads on the women’s side include junior Jennika Mannesto and senior Michaella Conery, who has won two America East Conference Distance Medley Relay titles and two New England 4x800 relay titles as a Wildcat.

“It’s really cool to see how many people from Concord High are really passionate about running,” Conery said. “And it’s not just that a bunch of people from Concord High run at UNH, it’s that a bunch of Concord High people are really succeeding at UNH and taking their running to the next level. So it’s just great to see that work ethic in a higher level environment.”

Feeling at home

Conery dreamed of competing in college way back when she started running for the Rundlett Middle School team. When it was time to pick a college and make that dream a reality, Conery hesitated before choosing New Hampshire. She had imagined herself going a lot farther away than Durham, but once she got a sense of the family atmosphere and team focus at UNH, she made the leap.

“I just felt like it was a place where the coach and the team would really care about me as a person,” Conery said.

The school and program has lived up to her expectations, and Conery has risen to meet the challenges the coaches have presented her.

“She’s had a lot of success as a middle distance athlete for us, and now she’s taking that success to cross country,” Hoppler said. “We’re excited about where she is and I think she’s ready now as a senior to be a collegiate-level cross country athlete, and that’s four years of hard work, so she should really be complimented with sticking with it and getting better.”

Conery missed the Coast to Coast race last weekend, where the New Hampshire women finished 10th overall, a result that pushed them to No. 11 in the USTFCCCA northeast regional rankings (they started the season at No. 15). But Conery was the second UNH finisher in the Wildcats’ first two races, and she lowered her 5.12K PR from 21:00 to 19:10 during the dual meet against Maine on Sept. 13.

Team first

Like Conery, Wilkes’s natural talent lies in the middle distances (he runs an impressive 4:11 mile), but he has worked to turn himself into a cross country contributor.

“I’m a lot more versatile as a runner than I was in high school,” Wilkes said. “I was not very confident with cross country at Concord High, but the UNH program has helped me gain that confidence. So I feel like a better all-around runner now, and not just a miler.”

His coaches agree.

“Jamie has bought into coach (Jim) Boulanger’s system, which is a really important thing, and he’s improved himself as a complete runner,” Hoppler said. “Cross country is important to him and the team is important to him. It’s important to him that the team succeeds, that the University of New Hampshire succeeds.”

Wilkes’s fellow ’Cats feel his team-first approach.

“Having Jamie here is unbelievable. He’s such a good influence and he’s such a leader,” said MacKenzie, who ran with Wilkes at Concord High before joining him in Durham. “We don’t really have a captain on paper, but I’m sure if you asked every single guy on our team, Jamie would be unanimously voted the captain. He’s not outspoken, he won’t talk your ear off, but he leads by example and we all follow him. He’s definitely pulling me along.”

No limits

MacKenzie has hit the ground running at the college level. The two-time Division I NHIAA champion was 13th overall, and the third Wildcat finisher, in his UNH debut and he was first overall on the men’s side in the dual meet against Maine before stepping his game up another notch at the Coast to Coast race.

“I think it was actually one of my better races I’ve had in my life, honestly,” MacKenzie said of the event in Boston last weekend. “I was sixth for freshmen in the northeast, and three of those guys were redshirts, so they were really sophomores. So out of the true freshmen, I was third, and I beat some guys who I was never even close to in high school.”

The ’Cats are thrilled with MacKenzie’s talent, “we’ll see how good he can get, I don’t think we’re going to set any limits,” Hoppler said, but they might be even happier with his attitude.

“He’s very motivated, he’s a great a teammate and he’s a lot of fun,” Hoppler said. “He just loves it. He wears his passion on his sleeve, and that passion is cross country.”

The locals running (and throwing and jumping) at UNH extend beyond the Concord school district. There’s Northwood’s Orion Clachar, Contoocook’s Aaron Dobe, Newbury’s Zach Astle, Tilton’s Scott Hinds, Hopkinton’s Kevin McGrath and Meredith’s Ian Daly, whose father, Hayden, is the Concord High track coach. And there’s also Loudon’s Kaitlyn Covell, Franklin’s Zoe Kaplan and Nottingham’s Elisabeth Danis, a decorated high school runner at Coe-Brown who went to Alabama before transferring to UNH.

“Her enthusiasm for the sport and willingness to embrace the hard work has been great, and having her on the team makes us better, there’s no question about it,” Hoppler said of Danis. “We’re really excited to see how good she can become over the next two years, we think she can be pretty successful.”

No matter where in New Hampshire these runners started, they’re all racing for the same pack now.

“It’s cool that all the kids who you competed against in high school come to the same team and are trying to do something together now,” Wilkes said. “It’s cool to see all of us with that New Hampshire on our chest instead of Pinkerton or Concord or wherever it may be.”

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3341 or tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @timosullivan20)



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