Maybe St. John’s Prep cross country coach John Boyle felt like Forrest Gump prior to the season.
Because, like with a box of chocolates, Boyle wasn’t sure what he’d get with the Eagles this fall.
The Prep only graduated one scorer from last year’s squad, but that was standout Jake Smith, who is now running at Assumption College. And last year’s team was only average by Prep standards, finishing second in the Catholic Conference and eighth in EMass Division 1.
Boyle also wasn’t sure who would be his No. 1 runner or how much to expect from junior Liam Dow of West Newbury. Dow had shown promise two years ago as a freshman but he had missed much of last fall with a complicated hamstring injury.
“It was hard to tell how effective he’d be,” said Boyle, who has been with the St. John’s program for more than 30 years including four as head man. “The injury was tough on him last year, but he did run a 10:02 in the 2-mile last spring.”
Even Dow wasn’t sure about his effectiveness.
“I was hoping to be in our top three, but I didn’t know how well I’d do,” said Dow. “I hadn’t run 5Ks before. I thought it’d take me awhile.”
In fact, Dow has been one of the surprises of the season and a major reason why the Prep could be a factor in the Eastern Mass. Division 1 meet.
Dow debuted by placing first in the Prep’s opening dual meet with a 5K time of 17:15, he won his second dual meet as well and then, at the highly competitive Ocean State Invitational, he ran a surprising 16:35 (for 5K) to finish fifth.
“That was a huge surprise and a big breakthrough for me,” said Dow, who started running as a seventh grader at Pentucket Middle School. “I was just hoping to break 17 minutes. I actually spent the first mile and a half leading the race ... I didn’t know what I was doing, but it worked out.”
Now, in addition to helping the Eagles win back the league crown and qualify for All-State (top five at Eastern Mass.), Dow has revised his goals.
“I’d like to break 16:10 (in 5K), which I think I can do if I work hard, and I want to continue be the No. 1 runner on our team,” he said.
An excellent student who takes four AP classes, Dow hopes to run in college, with Dartmouth high on his wish list. At the rate he’s progressing, that wish is looking more likely all the time.
Other locals help
Dow isn’t the only local runner on the St. John’s team. Junior Scott Atwood, who didn’t run cross country until last year and is also from West Newbury, is a consistent scorer while sophomore Evan MacMullen of Haverhill is on the verge of cracking the top seven.
With the improvement of Atwood, MacMullen and others, Boyle is hoping that the Prep gets back to its usual perch in the Catholic Conference, which the Eagles have won 10 times since 1999. St. John’s was Division 1 All-State champion in 1992, 2000 and 2003 and finished second in 2001.
Mitchell steps it up
Sophomore Alex Demeule isn’t the only Pentucket boys cross country runner who has stepped it up for the 5-1 Sachems this fall. Add senior captain Ian Mitchell and sophomore Drew Capener to the list as well.
Mitchell, who is perhaps more known as a hockey player, has been particularly impressive. Barely able to crack the top five last year, he has risen to No. 2 and improved his times tremendously.
“I knew he had it in him,” said Pentucket coach Darrel Cox. “I think what has helped him was running the quarter-mile in track last spring. He was the best 400-meter runner on the team and I think that helped his running and his confidence.”
Another track runner who has improved this fall is junior captain Cooper Carifio, who was a sprinter in the short dashes last spring.
The performance of the Coe-Brown girls at the Pelham Invitational over the weekend was truly stunning. The No. 1-ranked team in New Hampshire finished 2-3-4-5-7-9, the first four runners finishing the 5K course between 18:43 and 18:57. What’s just as impressive is that there are no seniors in the top six, which includes three freshmen and three sophomores.
CM meet cancelled
Due to scheduled maintenance on the Franklin Park course, the 2012 Catholic Memorial Invitational, scheduled for last Saturday, was cancelled. The 53rd CMI is now tentatively scheduled for Oct. 19, 2013. The construction at Franklin Park is also why the EMass. meets will — unfortunately — be held at Wrentham this year.