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.”
On the other end of the perspective, the Timberlane boys performed better than expected. A young crew, the Owls were competitive with the big boys and came within 19 points of qualifying for the Meet of Champions.
Senior Zach Bowen made remarkable improvement during the season and was the team’s top runner, but sophomore Peter Saviano came on strong as the No. 2 man and freshman Liam Kimball, showed great promise, finishing as the Owls’ third man at Div. 1 state meet.
Sophomores James Busi, Connor Mills and Tyler DeChane also showed plenty of promise.
“This is the first time I’ve had a young group like this really into it,” said Behan. “I think they’ll work hard at it and we’ll be pretty good in the next year or two.”
Although the Londonderry girls were as good as advertised, winning Division 1 and finishing second at the MOC, there were plenty of other surprises in New Hampshire as well.
— Despite serious graduation losses, the Pinkerton boys reloaded and got unexpected excellence from senior Patrick Chabot, junior Phil Parent and others to finish second in Division 1 for the fifth time in seven years — an impressive accomplishment.
— Just as noteworthy were the Londondery boys, who regrouped nicely from their 2011 Division 1 runner-up team that graduated their top six runners to come in third in Division 1, fourth at the Meet of Champions and finished in front of Pinkerton at New England. Junior Damon Kilgore, in particular, made remarkable strides.
— The Pinkerton girls, meanwhile, were expected to be middle of the pack at best. But, thanks to freshmen Morgan Sansing, Ariel Vaillancourt and Taylor Lacey, the Astros were an impressive fourth in Division 1 (better by two places than 2011) and barely missed qualifying for New England.
Outside of the area, there were plenty of other surprises as well. On the boys side, Winnacunnet was supposed to be the overwhelming boys power, but it slipped badly, finishing fourth in Division 1 and eighth in the MOC while Bedford soared to win Division 1 and finish second in the MOC.
As for the girls, everyone knew that Coe-Brown would be good, but it way surpassed expectations, rolling to the MOC crown with its top four runners being freshmen (2) and sophomores (2) while Bishop Guertin was nowhere near as good as anticipated.
Yes, in cross country, you just never know.
Royals’ boys impress
Congratulations to the Georgetown boys cross country, which made remarkable progress this year as was evident at the Division 6 Eastern Mass. meet Saturday. The Royals finished 14th of 32 teams with their top runner, Tom Mulligan, came in ninth overall to qualify for the Division 2 All-State Meet. Coach Brian Masys believes Mulligan may be the first male from Georgetown to accomplish such a feat in the history of the program.
Maravelis paces Pingree
Evan Maravelis, a freshman from North Andover, recently placed seventh overall to pace Pingree to the team championship in the Eastern Independent League meet. Maravelis credits Bill Varney and the North Andover Booster cross country program for getting him interested in cross country.