On the surface, there are few sports that seem more predictable than cross country.
Runners, after all, can usually improve only gradually and at a certain rate so, after awhile, it would seem that there would be few surprises during the season.
That may be the case from race to race but, for the season as a whole, nothing could be further from the truth. Injuries, loss of confidence, insufficient summer training and just plain bad luck can all have a swaying impact.
A look at what happened this year in New Hampshire is a perfect example, with Timberlane heading the list.
Understandably, there were high hopes for the Timberlane girls this fall. The Owls, after all, had their top seven runners back from a squad that finished fourth in Division 1. They placed four runners in the top 21 in 2011.
“I thought we’d be right there battling with Londonderry (for the top spot),” said Timberlane coach Mark Behan. “There was a lot of optimism.”
Instead, the Owls struggled all year, slipped to eighth at the Division 1 meet and came in a disappointing 13th at the Meet of Champions.
What went wrong? Timberlane faltered in just about every way a team can in cross country, which is why the sport is harder to predict than one might think.
No. 1 runner Hannah Kimball had some good performances, highlighted by a sixth-place finish at the Division 1 meet and a fine performance at New England over the weekend, but she was inconsistent.
No. 2 girl Kate Estep may have been suffering from the aftermath of the mononucleosis that plagued her last spring, Torri Plank never got in a rhythm and Caryn Ojemann came down with a stress fracture. Junior Lauren Oligny may have been the team’s most consistent runner.
“It was disappointing, but we just didn’t have enough depth,” said Behan. “When one or two of the girls were off, it affected the entire team.”