Both the Keene boys’ and girls’ cross country teams have the same goal for the 2019 season: to finish higher than they did in 2018.
The boys’ team starts on Sept. 3 at 4 p.m. at Manchester Memorial, while the Blackbird girls begin Sept. 5 at 4 p.m. with the Cofrin Classic at NHTI in Concord.
But with the two teams in different stages of their development, those goals take different forms for each of them.
For the boys’ team, coming off a runner-up finish at the Division I Championship, a fourth-place finish at the Meet of Champions and an eighth-place finish at the New England Championship, the goal is win a state title and move up to the top five in New England.
“Pretty lofty goals, but we’ve been moving in that direction,” said Keene boys’ coach David Goldsmith, who enters his 37th season with the team.
“Unfortunately, times that we really thought we had it together, we had something go wrong — an injury here, an asthma attack, a turned ankle, a torn hip flexor, a poor fourth-man runner in the race that we needed everyone to be on — so we know there’s a challenge to sort of run that perfect race, and our goal over the course of the season is to learn how to run that perfect race when it’s time.”
For the girls, who finished eighth in Division I and just missed the cut for the next level (although they did send two individual runners to the Meet of Champions), the destination is to not only make the cut this time, but also rise to the boys’ level with a top-three finish in the division and a spot in the New England Meet.
“We might run really well and be fifth or sixth, it’s possible. There are a lot of great teams out there,” said girls’ coach Bill Derry, entering his 20th season. “At the same time, I’m convinced that if we run like we can, we will be in the top three.”
Both teams return nearly all of their top runners from last year, putting them in a good spot to realize their ambitions.
The Blackbird boys will be without two of last year’s top five runners with the graduation of Aidan Kindopp (who finished ninth in Division I, 26th in the Meet of Champions and 44th in New England last year) and Wyatt Ferrando (27th Division I, 43rd Meet of Champions, 145th New England).
The top three spots figure to be filled by returning senior Jake Velazquez (third Division I, third Meet of Champions, eighth New England), sophomore (and Aidan’s younger brother) Torin Kindopp (eighth Division I, 15th Meet of Champions, 41st New England) and senior Nico Ramirez (44th Division I, 80th Meet of Champions, 133rd New England).
Goldsmith said Velazquez improved on his season-opening time by about 40 seconds from last year, while Kindopp had a noticeable growth spurt and Ramirez seemed to find his rhythm during track season as a member of Keene’s record-breaking 4x800-meter squad.
Ramirez will be looking to bounce back from an injury-riddled junior year, and Velazquez will be hoping to shake the bad luck charm that’s followed him through much of his career.
After being robbed of the postseason his sophomore year due to a hip injury, Velazquez seemed to be on his way to a Division I title last October, before an untimely fall dropped him to third.
“We look to have three in the top 10 again,” Goldsmith said, “and then everything is about the 4-5 to stop our scoring.”
Goldsmith said he expects his top six to be rounded out by senior Sergio Sartini (45th Division I, 60th Meet of Champions, 109th New England) and sophomores Jonathan Hills (98th Division I) and Silas Johnson.
According to Goldsmith, Sartini’s time with Ramirez and the Kindopp brothers on the 4x800 squad gave him a greater commitment to running and to the team.
“A year ago, when I asked [Sartini] about how his summer training was going, his response was, ‘well, I’ve run once,’ ” Goldsmith said. “But this year, he did a lot more, and he realizes off of that 4x8 experience that he’s part of a team, he’s responsible for his position, and he improved well over a minute on his [season-opening time], which tells me and him he was able to say, ‘I did a lot more, I feel a lot better.’ ”
The girls’ team didn’t graduate any of its top eight runners from last season, and Derry said the roster is starting to round itself into form now that everyone has another year under their belts.
Leading the way for the Blackbird girls will once again be senior Mikayla Randall (10th Division I, 76th Meet of Champions), sophomore Hannah Shepard (19th Division I, 83rd Meet of Champions), junior Amelia Opsahl (36th Division I) and sophomore Mia Brown (52nd Division I).
“Not only are they back, but they’re all better,” Derry said. “They worked hard in the spring, they have experience with being successful — we had those [record-breaking] 4x800 relays [with Randall, Shepard and Brown] in indoor and outdoor track, Amelia Opsahl had some great success running the 3200 last spring — so not only are they back, but they’re stronger and they’re better. They’ve done the work.”
The depth positions are expected to be filled by freshman Reagan Hoy — who took third in last year’s Middle School State Meet — and by sophomore Abby Martin (102nd Division I) senior Sophie Guardiano.
“There are two key issues,” Derry said. “The top three runners on the team really have to be comfortable being front runners. Mikayla, Amelia and Hannah all have to be willing and able to step up and be either someone who can win a race or be in the top two or three frequently.
“Then the four, five and six runners really have to close the gap. There can’t be a huge gap between are first and our fifth runners, which are the scoring ones, we’ve got to keep that a tight pack, and they’ve got to do the work necessary to get faster.”