Hilltopper Harrier Sets Sights on National XC Championships

story and photos by Jim Flint
Competing in his final high school cross country race in Vermont, Evan Thornton-Sherman cruises toward the finish at Thetford. His feet appear to barely touch the ground. He finished the 5k race in 16:26.

THETFORD – Evan Thornton-Sherman competed in his final high school cross country race on Vermont soil Saturday at the New England XC Championships. Running on the iconic Woods Trail course, the St. Johnsbury Academy senior cruised to a sixth-place finish in 16:26. Flying over the soggy terrain, he finished eight seconds faster than his victory in the Vermont D-I championship race on October 30.

Thornton-Sherman has been a fixture on the local running scene for more than six years. One of his early road races was the Craftsbury Academy Class of 2016 5k, on August 1, 2015. He entered the race with his mom, Jessica Thorton-Sherman, and his older brother, Myles Thornton-Sherman. Eleven-year-old Evan placed sixth of 24 runners that day, finishing the 5k race in a speedy time of 20:29.

Hilltopper seniors Evan Thornton-Sherman and Hale Boyden have raced together since middle school, including national Junior Olympic Championships. Boyden placed 75th for the St. Johnsbury boys at Saturday’s New England Cross Country Championships.

It didn’t take long for Thornton-Sherman’s race times to drop. On October 31, 2015, he came in first of 225 finishers at the Kingdom Challenge 5k in St. Johnsbury. He blitzed the course in 19:09. On Thanksgiving morning, 2015, the speedy sixth-grader placed third in the Barton Turkey Trot. In a David and Goliath matchup, Thornton-Sherman outsprinted an accomplished 40-year-old runner to the finish line. His 5k time was 19:14 on the hilly course.

Thornton-Sherman continued racing that fall through the USATF Junior Olympic Cross Country Program. In December, he traveled to Albuquerque, New Mexico for the 2015 Junior Olympic National Championships. He competed in the 3k cross country race for 11-12-year-olds. This was the first of several trips to the Junior Olympic Nationals.

Thornton-Sherman was the fastest runner for the St. Johnsbury Middle School cross country team in 2016 and 2017, before moving up to the St. Johnsbury Academy varsity squad in 2018. For the past four years, he has been the Hilltoppers’ top harrier. He placed ninth at the Vermont D-I state meet as a freshman, third as a sophomore, second as a junior, and first as a senior.

Damian Bolduc and Jessica Bolduc of Craftsbury coached the Green Mountain Athletic Association Juniors at regional and national competitions. Thornton-Sherman developed lasting friendships with fellow Junior Olympians, including Cormac Leahy of Greensboro and Hale Boyden of South Duxbury.

In 2019, Boyden transferred from Harwood Union High School to St. Johnsbury Academy to run with Thornton-Sherman. The Hilltopper seniors ran their last Vermont cross-country race together on Saturday. Boyden placed 75th in the New England XC Championships with a time of 17:50.

The second of five brothers, Thornton-Sherman encourages his younger siblings in running and other sports. On Saturday, Andrew Thornton-Sherman completed his freshman year on the St. Johnsbury cross-country team. The Thornton-Sherman brothers and Hale Boyden were instrumental in helping the Hilltopper harriers to earn their first D-I state championship since 1958. 

Andrew Thornton-Sherman was the top freshman in the state D-I championship race, placing 14th. At the New England Championships on November 13, he was the second-fastest freshman across five New England states. Younger brothers Joel and John Thornton-Sherman are next in line. The seventh-grade twins run for the St. Johnsbury Middle School team.

Evan Thornton-Sherman’s postseason is about to begin. He plans to run in the Eastbay (formerly Footlocker) Northeast Regional XC Championships on November 27. Athletes will compete on the historic 5k course at Van Cortland Park in the Bronx. 

The regional event brings together runners from five mid-Atlantic states and six New England states. The top ten finishers at the regional championship qualify for the Eastbay National XC Championship Race on December 11 in San Diego. Thornton-Sherman is currently ranked twelfth in the Northeast Region.

As Vermont’s top high school cross-country runner, Thornton-Sherman is being recruited by multiple colleges and universities, including UVM, Syracuse University, Bates College, and Colby College. Before college, he looks forward to a return to indoor track competition this winter. The spring outdoor track and field season will culminate his high school career.

Thornton-Sherman was relaxed as he congratulated teammates and conversed with well-wishers following Saturday’s New England Championship run. 

“Thetford is my favorite course,” he said. “The mud added to the fun. It is a good definition of what cross country is all about. You have to adapt. We pushed each other to be the best we could be.”