by Jim Flint
THETFORD – Suspense is building for Saturday’s Vermont state cross country championships at the storied Woods Trail Course. A talented cohort of runners from towns covered by the Hardwick Gazette will be in the hunt for individual and team titles.
The action kicks off with the boys Division-III championship race at 10:30 a.m. followed by the D-I and D-II boys races at 11:00 and 11:30. The girls D-III, D-I, and D-II races follow in the same order beginning at noon. The event concludes with the Boys Challenge Race at 1:30 p.m. followed by the Girls Challenge Race at 2:15. Spectators are encouraged to arrive before 10 a.m. to secure parking.
The St. Johnsbury Academy (D-I), U-32 High School (D-II), and Craftsbury Academy (D-III) boys are favored to defend their 2021 state titles. The U-32 High School girls placed second to Harwood Union High School in 2021. The Raider girls are the favorite to win the 2022 D-II state championship.
The combined results for the three divisions will determine the top six boys and girls teams qualifying for the New England Championships on November 12. This is where the competition becomes more intense. In addition to the top six teams, the top 25 individual runners will also qualify for the New England meet.
For the boys, St. Johnsbury Academy, Champlain Valley Union High School, and Essex are expected to occupy the top three spots. U-32 and Craftsbury will be fighting for one of the remaining three slots. For the girls, Champlain Valley, Essex, and U-32 are the top three ranked teams. The St. Johnsbury Academy girls are the seventh-ranked team in Vermont going into Saturday’s meet.
In the D-I boys race, SJA senior Charlie Krebs will be shooting to finish in the top ten. Krebs, a transfer from Craftsbury Academy, placed second in last year’s D-III championship race. SJA junior transfer Ava Purdy placed 14th for Craftsbury Academy in last year’s D-III state championship. Purdy is currently the third-fastest runner for the Hilltopper girls. She is in the running for a top-25 finish.
The D-II division includes three U-32 runners from the town of Calais. Senior Sargent Burns runs best when the stakes are the highest. Burns played an instrumental role in U-32’s victory, the first ever by a Vermont team, at last year’s New England championships. Sophomore Tennessee Lamb and junior Amy Felice come from running families. Felice, who competed in last year’s New England championship, is on the verge of breaking the 20-minute barrier for the 5k.
Craftsbury Academy is likely to face competition from Thetford Academy and Stowe High School in the D-III boys championship race. Though the Chargers have dealt with injuries and illness this fall, head coach Mike Levangie expects the team to be at full strength on Saturday.
Craftsbury sophomore Charlie Kehler is the favorite to challenge Richford senior John Viens for the individual boys title. Viens placed third behind Cormac Leahy and Charlie Krebs at last year’s state championship. Fortunately for Craftsbury, Leahy has returned to near-full strength after healing from a spring stress fracture. Craftsbury’s “four horsemen,” senior Alan Moody and juniors Matt Califano, Alex Califano, and Silas Hunt, will be chomping at the bit as they stride out beside Leahy.
Twinfield senior Ethan Parrish is a dark horse in the D-III boys race. Parrish has shown steady improvement all season long. He set a new 5k personal record of 18:35 at the NVAC Conference Meet.
Craftsbury senior Rachel Bjerke is slated to complete four years of high school cross country at the state meet. Bjerke, junior Verna Stoddard, and sophomore Anika Leahy form the core of the Charger girls cross country squad.