In a season of upheaval, at least one steadfast tradition continues: The NHIAA cross country state meets are scheduled to take place at Derryfield Park in Manchester on Saturday. The all-day event, being spread out to avoid large congregations of runners, will crown team and individual champions in Divisions I, II and III.
The race also serves as a qualifier for the Meet of Champions, which will be held the following week and is a competition between the top teams and individuals across all divisions. Each division has allocated a certain number of teams and individuals who will qualify for the Meet of Champions:
Division I will send the top six teams and the first five finishers not on qualifying teams;
Division II will send the top five teams and the first five finishers not on qualifying teams;
Division III will send the top four teams and the first five finishers not on qualifying teams.
There won’t be as many qualifiers for the Meet of Champions as usual this year, another precaution against the spread of the coronavirus.
One of the biggest storylines of Saturday’s event will be the boys DIII team race, which is up for grabs between Monadnock Regional High, Conant High and Mascenic Regional of New Ipswich.
Let’s take a look at the local teamsand what to expect from them in Saturday’s meet:
The Blackbirds will not be competing in this year’s NHIAA state meet due to the school’s restrictions on travel.
Both the boys and girls teams were looking at potential third or fourth place finishes in the race, which would have qualified them for the Meet of Champions.
The decision not to compete comes as other Keene sports are also having to cancel their playoff appearances this season.
Saturday’s state meet will be the first competition of the season for the ConVal cross country teams. Because of the pandemic, the teams were limited this season in competition and even in practice.
The boys team is coming off a 6th place finish in last year’s state meet, and is hoping for another top-10 finish this year in a competitive DII slate.
The Cougars have two runners who could potentially earn the No. 1 spot on the team this year: senior August Kotula, who finished 28th in last year’s race, and junior Ian Post, who will be competing in his first state meet.
“Ian and August will be battling it out for the top spot,” said ConVal head coach Lance Flamino.
Junior Tyler Beard and seniors Wiley Kendall and Haven Deschenes round out the projected top five for the Cougars. Deschenes and Beard ran neck-and-neck in last year’s race, finishing 46th and 49th respectively, but were only about one second apart.
Kendall is in his first year on the team, meaning Saturday’s meet will be his first competitive 5K, but Flamino is confident in his ability and preparation for the race.
Senior Logan Decker and sophomore Elijah White are the No. 6 and 7 runners for ConVal, both competing in their first state meet. “Elijah is just looking to get some experience on the course, because he will be back,” Flamino said.
The ConVal girls have only four runners, so they will not qualify for a team score, meaning the race will be more about preparing the individuals for the future, Flamino said.
Junior Ella Philips is coming off surgery over the summer, but will be ready to compete at her second state meet. “She’s a competitive kid, so she’ll give it her all,” Fleming said. “I’m excited to see her run.”
Sophomore Avery Beard is the only other returning runner to the state meet from ConVal. Junior Emma Carpenter and sophomore Makenna Proctor are both first-time runners at the state meet and will be looking to gain experience and set the bar for next year’s race.
This is Proctor’s second year on the team, but she missed last year’s postseason because of injury.
The Husky boys are led by senior Tyler Hebert, who finished in third place in last year’s state meet. Monadnock Coach Clint Joslyn has seen good things from his senior during this shortened season.
“I expect him to be up there again this year,” Joslyn said. “Up to this point, he’s run really strong. I’d say he’s just as good — if not better — than last year.”
The Huskies’ boys team comes into the race ranked in the top three in Division III, along with Conant and Mascenic. Joslyn says the team title is a toss-up this year. Monadnock beat both Mascenic and Conant in dual meets this season, each one by only one point, but Conant also beat Monadnock early in the year.
“My top five guys need to have their best days on Saturday,” Joslyn said. “On any given day, either team can be the top team.”
And he knows his guys can get the job done.
“They don’t need to run beyond what they’re capable of, just what they’re capable of,” Joslyn said. “I just want them to run their race.”
The Monadnock boys are looking for their first team state title since 2016.
On the girls’ side, senior Delaney Swanson has finished in the top 10 in all three of her previous state meets, and has shown no signs of slowing down this year.
“I expect her experience to pay off,” Joslyn said. “She’s a very gifted athlete. I expect her to be in the front of the pack.”
Look for freshman Alyssa Hall and sophomore Anna Bentley in the top-20 as well. Bentley finished 23rd in last year’s race.
The Orioles boys team is coming off a third-place finish in last year’s state meet, when their No. 2 runner, senior Matt Bernier, collapsed in the first mile of the race and another top-five runner stopped to help him.
“He pushed himself passed the limit,” said Conant Coach Bill Edson. “But he’s back with a vengeance.”
The experienced team, led by two seniors and a junior, is prime to make another push at the NHIAA Division III team title this year, which would be its first in program history.
“We’re just building off the momentum from last year,” Edson said. “We want to build a running legacy at Conant High School.”
Conant’s top three are junior Ethan Vitello, Bernier and senior Ethan Weinhold.
“We have a really strong front three,” Edson said.
But the DIII team race could come down to the Nos. 4 and 5 runners, who Edson has confidence in as well.
Junior Justin Mormando has been running as the Orioles’ No. 4 this season.
“I think he’s going to surprise himself and could really make a difference for us,” Edson said.
Conant’s No. 5 runner is junior Austin Poikenen, who ran his first full season with the team this year.
“We have a really tight top five,” Edson said. “We did not expect to be deep this year, but it turns out we are very deep.”
Unlike the upperclass-heavy boys team, the girls team is led by mainly underclassmen. Six of their top seven runners are freshmen or sophomores.
The girls finished 8th in last year’s race.
“The goal this year is to do better than what we did last year,” Edson said. “They’ve been running well lately, so we hope that carries over.”
Their top two runners, sophomore Kylie Aho and freshman Amarah Lapinsky, are a close No. 1 and 2, but typically Aho serves as the team’s top runner because of experience.
Junior Alleigh Lapinsky, Amarah’s sister and the only upperclassman in the top seven, holds the No. 3 spot for the Orioles.
“She’s been the bedrock of the team and has held it together,” Edson said. “With such a young squad, someone has to mentor them.”
Sophomores Lainey Holomeo and Laurel Bennett round out the top five for Conant. Its Nos. 6 and 7 runners are both freshmen.
“It’s a matter of understanding what needs to happen and not letting the moment overwhelm you,” Edson said.