Craftsbury Harriers Stand Out at New England XC Championships

story and photos by Jim Flint  
Krebs at New England Cross Country Championship | Charlie Krebs (#79) of Craftsbury Academy approaches the final turn at the New England Cross Country Championship meet on November 20. Krebs passed Owen Patry (#48) from Cape Elizabeth, Maine and nearly caught Cameron Ferrell (#178) from North Kingston, RI. Krebs’ 5k time was 18:10.

THETFORD – The fastest high school runners from Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Connecticut, and Rhode Island converged Saturday for the New England Cross Country Championships. After last year’s cancellation due to the pandemic, the Green Mountain State took its turn to host the rotating championship races. 

Six boys’ varsity teams and six girls’ varsity teams represented Vermont. The Craftsbury Academy Chargers were among the qualifying teams for the boys’ championship race. This was the first time that a Vermont D-III cross country team competed at the New England level.

Leahy at New England Cross Country Championship Cormac Leahy led the way for the Craftsbury Academy boys at the New England Championship meet in Thetford. Leahy (#80) passed Charlie Collins (#128) of Hampden Maine on the final straightaway. Leahy placed 43rd of 263 varsity boys in the race. His time was 17:28.

On October 30, Craftsbury Academy won the Vermont D-III state championship. After compiling the times of the D-I, D-II, and D-III runners, the combined team scores were calculated. The Charger boys exceeded their state meet goal. Craftsbury Academy placed fifth in Vermont in the state meet standings.

Poised on the starting line of the Woods Trail course, their New England moment had come. The starting boxes for the six Vermont teams were in the middle of the starting line. A dozen out-of-state teams lined up in boxes on either side of the Vermonters. Two hundred meters ahead of the runners, the course funneled down to a passage 30 meters wide, lined by ropes and cheering spectators on each side.

The Vermont boys were primed and ready to show that they could compete with the best teams in New England. And then, adversity struck. All plans were off.

Cormac Leahy and Charlie Krebs led the Craftsbury charge out of the starting box. They followed hot on the heels of Vermont’s ace runner, Evan Thornton-Sherman of St. Johnsbury Academy. 

Alan Moody, Matt Califano, Charlie Kehler, Leo Circosta, and Alex Califano were in the middle of the pack. The five Charger boys were squeezed by runners quickly converging from both sides.

“Someone hit me from behind, and I went down,” said Moody, who is well over six feet tall. “When I got untangled, I was in last place.” 

Matt Califano found himself pulled into another chain reaction. “The guy who was next to me got pushed and fell on top of me,” he said.

“It was crazy chaos, with a lot more people than I’m used to,” said Kehler, who was nearly spiked in the face by a runner who fell ahead of him.

Leo Circosta and Alex Califano jumped over downed runners to avoid a domino effect.

Leo Circosta had his best race of the season for Craftsbury at the New England XC Championships. He used short strides and strategic bursts of speed to move up in the pack. Circosta placed 145th in 18:37.

“People were falling all around me,” Circosta said. “It was tight on the corners. Whenever I came to a straightaway, I tried to boost past as many people as possible.”

The first kilometer of the Woods Trail course is downhill, luring runners to go out fast. With a packed field and squishy sections, the footing was tricky. Runners elbowed for position as they entered the forested trails and ran the lower loop of the course.

“I got out well, then suffered in the second mile,” said Cormac Leahy. “Around the two-mile mark, I got pushed into a tree as I tried to pass another runner.”

Leahy shrugged off the bump. He stayed relaxed on a course that he knew well. Coming off the last hill, he sprinted furiously to the finish line. Leahy moved up from his 100th-place finish at the 2019 New England Championships. His time of 17:28 placed 43rd of 263 finishers.

Charlie Krebs focused on running a smart race. “I didn’t want to get stuck in the beginning,” he said. “I got caught up in the crowd but didn’t fall.”

Krebs passed three runners in the last straightaway. He finished 99th in 18:10. 

Circosta and Matt Califano pushed each other up and down the hills, as they passed other runners. The teammates finished 145th and 148th, respectively.

Circosta had his best race of the season under the most difficult conditions. He completed the Woods Trail course in 18:37, four seconds faster than his time at the state championship meet on October 30. Matt Califano finished close behind Circosta, in 18:39.

Alex Califano was Craftsbury’s fifth man. He placed 210th, in 19:22. Alan Moody moved up 35 places after his fall. He finished sixth for Craftsbury, in 19:48.

Craftsbury’s Alan Moody (#81) overcame a chain-reaction fall to move up 35 places during the New England Championship race. Moody finished the 5k race in 19:48.148th,

Kehler, the only freshman on the Craftsbury squad, placed 231st. His time was 19:49.

Among Vermont teams, the U-32 High School boys won the New England Championship with 139 points. This was the first victory for a Vermont boys’ team since Essex High School’s victory in 1987. St. Johnsbury Academy’s 382 points placed 13th of 29 teams. Essex placed 15th with 408 points. Craftsbury Academy (431 points) finished ahead of BFA St. Albans (452 points) and Champlain Valley (485 points). The Craftsbury boys placed 18th overall.

“Making it here was our goal,” said Craftsbury Academy head coach Mike Levangie. “The team ran well despite adversity, which is part of the nature of racing. Moving up to fourth place in Vermont is a big deal for us.”

“It is great to see the athletes developing and learning what the sport is all about. This was a much more physical race. We are a young team. They are growing into cross country running with excitement.”