Charger Harriers Poised to Overcome Challenges

by Jim Flint

CRAFTSBURY ̶ As autumn colors paint the scenic ridges of Craftsbury, head coach Mike Levangie faces a changing landscape for the Craftsbury Academy cross country team. Although the composition of the girls and boys squads are different this year, the team’s goals remain the same.

The Charger boys made history in 2021 as the first D-III school in Vermont to qualify for the New England Cross Country Championships. This year’s team is favored to repeat as Division III state champs. The quest to be one of the six Vermont teams competing at the New England championships is a more challenging standard to attain. The Charger girls will strive to maintain a full team that meets or exceeds last year’s third-place finish in Division III.

Levangie, Vermont’s 2021 high school cross country coach of the year, acknowledges that the Charger boys’ team is in a unique position. “We flew under the radar last year,” said Levangie. “Expectations are high this year. There is some apprehensiveness. Can we do this again the way we think we can?”

The Chargers boys will begin their fall campaign without their top two runners from last year, Cormac Leahy and Charlie Krebs. Leahy was sidelined from summer running due to a stress fracture in his foot. Krebs transferred from Craftsbury Academy to St. Johnsbury Academy for his senior year.

“Cormac is still in a boot,” said Levangie. “He has been biking and is very fit aerobically. We hope to have him back racing in a month or so.”

Levangie said that Leahy travels to Berlin two to three times a week to run on the Alter G treadmill. The anti-gravity device allows him to ease back into running by supporting part of his weight. Transitioning to a grass surface is the next step in his recovery.

The Charger boys have considerable depth to fall back on. Senior Alan Moody, juniors Matt Califano and Alex Califano, and sophomore Charlie Kehler competed on the 2021 state championship varsity squad.

On the girls side, Anika Leahy returns after a successful freshman year that culminated with a ninth-place finish in the D-III state championship race. This fall Leahy plans to compete in cross country and soccer for Craftsbury. “Anika is motivated and able to handle the time commitment of two sports,” said Levangie.

The Craftsbury girls will need to replace two strong runners from last year’s team, Ava Purdy and Ruth Krebs. Purdy and Krebs transferred to St. Johnsbury Academy.

Senior Rachel Bjerke and junior Daisy Roianov provide stability for the Charger squad. The girls train together. Senior Verna Stoddard is running cross country for the first time this fall. Soccer standout Sadie Skorstad may also compete in cross country to round out the Craftsbury squad.

Craftsbury kicked off the 2022 season on September 3 at the Essex Invitational. Coach Levangie brought four runners to the meet to give them an early season taste of competition.

Competing in his first high school cross country meet, junior Silas Hunt impressed Levangie. Hunt finished 36th of 113 competitors in the boys varsity race. His 5k time was 19:10. Senior Linden Stelma-Leonard, a veteran from last season’s campaign, placed 97th in 23:35.

Rachel Bjerke and Daisy Roianov placed 69th and 77th, respectively, of 95 runners in the varsity girls race. Their times were 27:28 and 28:10.

The Chargers next meet is the U-32 Invitational on September 17. Coach Levangie has trimmed this year’s schedule to focus more on Saturday invitationals.

The Craftsbury harriers plan to travel to Rhode Island on October 8 for the Ponaganset Covered Bridge Classic. The meet offers a glimpse of the pot of gold under the “end of season” rainbow. The New England Championships are scheduled for the Ponaganset course in November.

“We have big plans,” said Levangie. “We want to make sure that we end up where we want to be.”