The New Hampshire Division 2 state meet the weekend before last wasn’t quite up to the highest standard for the powerful Coe-Brown cross country program.
Oh, things were fantastic for the boys team, which placed first with a stunningly low total of 21 points as it swept the first three places and had all seven runners finish in the top 12. But the Coe-Brown girls team “only” finished second.
Over the last 20 years under co-coaches Tim Cox and Brent Tkaczyk, who were good friends in college and even closer friends now, Coe-Brown has put together a powerhouse program that turns out outstanding teams for both the boys and girls.
Over the last nine years, Coe-Brown has won a combined 12 state titles and been in strong contention every year. At the moment, the boys program is a bit stronger, but the girls were much stronger earlier in the decade.
In fact, Coe-Brown’s girls were New England champions in 2013 after finishing as runner-up the previous two years. That’s the kind of success the Coe-Brown boys are striving for.
“The boys have never won New England and qualified for nationals and that’s definitely one of our goals this year,” said Cox. “We’ve had some good boys teams before, but this is the best one we’ve had.”
And it’s young. Five of the top seven are juniors and a sixth, Aidan Cox, is a freshman. Aidan, who is the coach’s son, finished second at Derryfield Park in the Division 2 meet with a time of 16:09, just three seconds behind junior teammate Like Tkaczyk, who is the other coach’s son, and then he finished second at the Meet of Champions last Saturday.
“It’s pretty cool to have them run so well,” said coach Cox, whose squad routed the field at the MOC, beating runner-up Pinkerton by nearly 50 points. “We have five juniors who are extremely dedicated and worked hard over the summer. We thought we’d have a good team this year and so far it has been.”
But, really, Coe-Brown is very good every year. How has the school from Northwood, with just over 700 students done it? Some would say it’s partly because the school doesn’t offer football, but Cox says that has nothing to do with it.
“I don’t think there’s any connection,” said Cox. “You get a different kind of athlete for football than cross country. I actually wish we had a football team. It would help us in track and field.”
Part of the success of the high school teams is because a healthy percentage of the runners come up from a local AAU team, the New Hampshire Thunder, which is run by Amy Tkaczyk, the wife of co-coach Brent Tkaczyk.
“It’s a good program which has several dedicated coaches,” said Cox. “Coaching is so important. In our (high school) program, we have four or five volunteer coaches with a good running background. It allows every kid to have someone they can connect with.”
Other than that, Cox attributes the success of the program primarily to “the kids buying into what the it takes to be good.
“We preach working hard, making the right decisions and doing the right thing. We really have a blue-collar approach to running. You can’t cut any corners -- you have to do the work.”
That formula has worked wonders and Cox is hoping it will translate this weekend into the first-ever New England title for the boys, the main competition likely coming from Bishop Hendricken in Rhode Island and LaSalle Academy in Connecticut.
With six underclassmen in the top seven, one might think that next year will be THE year, but Cox isn’t thinking in those terms.
“Our kids are geared up for this year,” said Cox. “You never know what next year will bring.”
And next year, the Coe-Brown girls -- who also qualified for New England -- should return to the top as two of their top three runners are freshmen and six of the top seven are underclassmen.
So the beat will go on.