There may be a few better girl cross country runners around, but there are probably not many happier ones than Pentucket senior captain Marissa Porter.
After two years plagued with injuries, Porter is just happy to be running, much less running well as the top runner for a Pentucket squad that is one of the better teams around.
“I just love the sport so much,” said Porter. “I really enjoy being captain, trying to get the younger kids excited and to get them to love cross country as much as I do.”
Porter’s enthusiasm is largely the result of an excellent freshman cross country season during which she was among the Sachems’ top three runners and giving signs that her future was nearly unlimited.
After a strong indoor track season that freshman year, followed by success as a freshman lacrosse player, Porter trained hard the next summer (up to 40 miles per week on the roads) in preparation for what she hoped would be a breakout cross country season.
Unfortunately, she may have trained too hard. After a few days of practice, in obvious pain, she was diagnosed with a stress fracture in her shin and was lost for the season.
“It was from running too much on pavement,” said Porter. “It pretty much cost me the whole year.”
Porter, a resident of West Newbury, trained for cross country the next summer as well but tried to run more on trails rather than pavement. This time, she lasted through two meets before more misfortune struck when she suffered a stress fracture in her hip, once again ending her season.
She did run some in indoor track last year despite recording a dubious kind of trifecta when she suffered a stress fracture in her foot.
Needless to say, when Porter trained during the summer for the current season, she did so carefully.
“I just ran on trails when I ran and the coach (Todd Ruland) put a cap on how much I did,” she said. “I definitely did less than I had (the previous two seasons).”
The caution has worked wonderfully. Porter quickly became the team’s top runner, she’s placed first three times and she placed an impressive seventh at the Ocean State Invitational.
“She’s had a great season and I also think she’ll get better and better this season,” said Ruland. “She works really hard and has great natural ability and has that fighting spirit ... (but) we’ve been real conservative with training. After two years of injury, we’re not taking any chances.”
After missing two cross country seasons, Porter entered the season with a number of goals, including breaking 20 minutes for 5K, which she did in her first meet, and going with the team to All-State. But there is one goal that is most important.
“I want to stay healthy, that’s the big one,” she said.
Porter, an excellent student who is ranked 26th in a class of 188, is eager to continue cross country beyond high school, perhaps because she missed out on two seasons.
“I really want to run in college and I’ve talked to some coaches already,” she said. “It’s tough losing the two seasons. I would have had better personal bests by now so that makes it harder for the recruiting.”
Ruland agrees with that, saying that “By now she would be where (former standout) Becca Morse was,’ but he also believes that her best running days may be ahead of her.”
Sachems on rise
It’s been a difficult season for the Sachem girls, who have won nine meets the last two seasons. Losing Kelsi McNamara for the season with achilles tendonitis really hurt and Emma Marchant is just getting back in shape from tendonitis in her foot.
But with the return of Marchant, the steady improvement of Porter, the quick development of newcomer Kasey Mann, along with Brianna Repke and Jordan Balletto, Ruland believes that “we have a solid top 5 and are positioned well for the larger meets.”
Those big meets begin this weekend with the Cape Ann League Open.
Lancers vie for title
Londonderry’s girls, who may have the most depth of any team in recent memory, will be vying for its first Division 1 state title since 1994 Saturday at Derryfield Park.
The Lancers, who were third in the Elite division at the Manchester Invitational, have had five different girls place first including freshman Maddie McKivergan, who has come on strong late in the season.
Seniors who have placed first are Sydney Lagueux, Colleen Kennedy, Cassandra Cronin and Alissa Rogers. Close behind are classmates Amanda Szymanski and Devin Boyle, both of whom are capable of being in front.
Londonderry’s chief competition will probably be defending champion Bishop Guertin, who the Lancers beat by one place at the Manhattan Invitational. Manchester Central is also a title threat.
On the boys side, Pinkerton will need a near-perfect day to overcome favored Winnacunnet.
Also on tap Saturday are the Merrimack Valley Conference, Cape Ann League and Commonwealth conference meets, the latter of which unbeaten Greater Lawrence should win on the boys side.
Splaine out for year
The Presentation of Mary girls team received a blow when it was decided that standout sophomore Maria Splaine would be lost for the season with an injured achillies. That pretty much explains why the Panthers are experiencing a rare losing season.
On a positive note, Sydney Moran has developed into a reliable No. 1 runner and the boys team last week won its second meet.