EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 26, 2012

Cross country: Methuen youngsters offer promise of better days

On Cross Country
Dave Dyer

---- — Thank goodness for Mike O’Donnell.

Not only did the Methuen star give the area something to cheer about in the postseason with his phenomenal performance in the EMass. Division 1 and Division 1 All-State meets and the Foot Locker Northeast Regional, but he may have laid the groundwork for a revival of the Rangers.

Let’s face it, it was not a good year for the area Massachusetts teams. Greater Lawrence, under head coach Jay Santomassino, enjoyed an exceptional undefeated season on the vocational level, coming within two points of the state Voke title, but no team was close to qualifying for the All-State meets — a disappointing development.

But, Methuen, with sophomores Matt Marchand, Cam Pavao, John St. Hilaire, Devin Allen and Will McGrath and freshman Jeff Reddy, has the potential to return to the high standard set by previous Ranger teams.

The potential showed when Methuen rolled to a resounding win in the sophomore race at the State Coaches meet.

Head coach Bill James, whose team dominated the MVC over a span of seven years, is cautiously optimistic, although he realizes that All-State champ Lowell will be tough to overtake.

“We do have a good sophomore class and they gave glimpses of good things to come, but it depends on how hard they work,” said James. “Having some big meet experience this year will help.”

As far as the required work, that shouldn’t be a problem according to the youngsters, and they have O’Donnell to thank for that.

“He (O’Donnell) taught us how to train and how to race,” said Marchand.

Added Pavao: “When you’re hurting and feel the pain, he tells us it’ll go away soon.”

All of the young Rangers will now turn their attention to track, with the hope of increasing their surge speed. But, make no mistake about it, cross country is in the back of their minds.

“I can’t wait until next year,” said Marchand.

Other prospects ...

To be honest, unless there is an influx of outstanding freshmen, the odds are not favorable that any other local teams will advance to All-State next year. The Pentucket and Greater Lawrence boys have an outside shot, perhaps, and possibly the Central Catholic and Andover girls as well, but it will take a lot of hard work.

It’d be great to see the Haverhill girls rebound, but the ranks seem to be thinning for the Hillies.

High NH hopes

The picture is much brighter in New Hampshire where Pinkerton and Londonderry have established consistent programs and the Timberlane boys could be on the rise. What’s helpful in all these cases are good numbers which, combined with strong coaching, usually equal success.

There are particularly high hopes for Amy Bernard’s young Pinkerton girls team, which features three tremendous freshmen in Ariel Vaillancourt, Morgan Sansing and Taylor Lacey.

The Astro boys always seem to reload under energetic Mike Clark and the feeder system is so strong at Londonderry that the Lancers can never be discounted for boys or girls.

Meanwhile, hats off to the Pelham boys and girls, both of whom had strong seasons and could be highly competitive on the Division 3 level, and Windham certainly has the potential to grow.

Individuals to watch

Although team performances were down, there were some excellent individual performances this year and not just by O’Donnell.

Phillips Academy sophomore Anoush Shehadeh, who over the weekend qualified for the Foot Locker nationals Dec. 8 in San Diego, is already one of the area’s all-time best cross country runners and keep an eye on North Reading junior Nicole Roberts.

Roberts made remarkable progress this year, running the area’s best time at the All-State meets, and could be one of the state’s best runners next year.

Down the road a bit, Phillips Academy freshman Peyton McGovern of Methuen had a fine rookie season and has a lot of potential. Pentucket sophomore Alex Demeule and Haverhill sophomore Christian White are among younger runners to watch on the boys’ side.