by Jim Flint
NORTH SCITUATE, R.I. – The finest high school harriers from five New England states converged at Ponaganset High School Saturday for the New England Cross Country Championships. The field included ten runners hailing from towns covered by the Hardwick Gazette. The local athletes represented U-32 High School, St. Johnsbury Academy, and Craftsbury Academy.
Tropical Storm Nicole ushered in summer-like conditions for the boys and girls 5k championship races. Temperatures were in the low to mid-70s with sunshine and a breeze. Rainfall during the night and early morning hours softened the grassy field at the start and finish of the course. The wooded middle section of the course was well-drained, with occasional wet spots.
The field was crowded with 245 runners in the girls race and 260 in the boys race. After the wide start, runners converged to the middle and fought for position before entering the woods. The mass of churning arms and legs led to some elbowing and a few runners grazed by spiked shoes.
Ruth White, from Orono, Me., reprised her 2021 New England victory by winning the girls race in 17:51. Glastonbury, Connecticut won the girls team competition with 116 points, followed by Champlain Valley Union High School with 133 points. Tess Drury of Mt. Mansfield Union High School was the top Vermont finisher. She placed third, in 18:46.
Devan Kipyego, from St. Raphael, R.I., won the boys race in 15:24. Vermont’s top finisher was Matt Servin, from Champlain Valley Union High School. The Vermont D-I champion placed ninth in 15:53.
Felice and Burns Lead U-32 Raiders
U-32 junior Amy Felice is from Calais. Her individual finish was the highest among the ten runners from the greater Hardwick area. Felice went out strong at a 6:07 per mile pace. She lost five places in the middle section of the course then gained them back in the final kilometer. Crossing the finish line in 20:18, she placed 63rd and led the Raider girls to an 18th-place finish among 28 teams.
U-32 senior Sargent Burns was the fastest local runner in the boys championship race. Burns, from Calais, placed 88th, with a time of 17:13. He opened with a 5:07 first mile, fell back 34 places in the middle section, and gained back ten places in the final kilometer. He placed second for the U-32 boys, who were led by Cyrus Hansen’s 42nd-place finish in 16:43.
U-32 sophomore Tennessee Lamb ran in his first New England Championship race. Lamb, from East Calais, placed 238th in 19:12. The U-32 boys finished 12th among the 30 teams representing Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.
“We’re pretty happy with how we raced on Saturday,” said Sargent Burns about the U-32 Raiders. “It definitely felt good (and kind of surprised us) to finish 12th in the region, especially considering the ups and downs that we’ve dealt with all year stemming from injuries, illness, and inconsistency.”
Purdy and Krebs Race for St. Johnsbury
Ava Purdy, from Greensboro, was the top finisher for the St. Johnsbury Academy girls team. Purdy, a junior transfer from Craftsbury Academy, ran in her first New England Championship race. She paced her first mile in 6:30, moved back 18 places in the middle section, and gained back six places in the last kilometer. She crossed the line in 21:54, the first of a trio of St. Johnsbury runners who finished within a four-second span. Purdy placed 152nd overall.
St. Johnsbury Academy edged out Champlain Valley Union High School, 314 to 316, to place highest among the Vermont boys’ teams. The Hilltoppers, led by Andrew Thornton-Sherman’s 30th-place finish, placed eighth as a team. The race, however, was not without its share of adversity for St. Johnsbury.
A half-mile into the contest, a runner stepped on Thornton-Sherman from behind, pulling off his spiked running shoe. For the remainder of the 5k race, he ran the gravel trails and grassy fields with a shoe on his right foot and a sock on the left. In a gutsy effort, the sophomore standout completed the first mile in 5:01, lost ten places in the middle section, and regained eight spots in the final kilometer.
SJA’s Charlie Krebs, a senior transfer from Craftsbury Academy, was a second behind Thornton-Sherman at the mile mark when he, too, was stepped on from behind. The sharp impact caused a contusion on his Achilles tendon. Running through the pain, Krebs dropped 73 places in the middle section before regaining 13 places in the last kilometer. He still was able to finish 123rd in 17:33.
Chargers Overcome Challenges
The Craftsbury Academy boys went into the New England Championships with senior Alan Moody and junior Alex Califano sidelined. It was up to the remaining five Chargers to carry the team torch.
Craftsbury’s lead runner, sophomore Charlie Kehler, went out with the chase pack. The Vermont D-III champion trailed Thornton-Sherman and Krebs by three to four seconds at the one-mile mark. Misfortune struck when a sharp rock from the gravel trail kicked up and lodged in the opening at the back of his running shoe. The rock cut into Kehler’s sockless foot near the Achilles tendon area, making for an uncomfortable remainder of the race. Kehler persevered to place 152nd in 17:54.
Matt Califano and Cormac Leahy ran together for much of the race. Califano surged in the final kilometer to finish 180th in 18:17. Leahy, running in his third New England Championship race, placed 200th in 18:27. Silas Hunt ran a steady pace to finish 229th in 18:56. The solid effort was the second-fastest 5k time of his first cross country season.
Senior Linden Stelma-Leonard rounded out the Chargers squad. Craftsbury’s team captain ran his fastest 5k of the 2022 season at the New England Championships. He finished in 20:26.
Summing up the Season
At its core, cross country is an endeavor of growth and resilience. Student-athletes set team goals and achieve personal bests, while facing challenges and sometimes disappointments.
U-32 senior Sargent Burns summed up his high school cross country career with a reflection on the New England Championships and optimism for the road ahead.
“Individually, I dealt with adversity in training this season, so I am pleased with the effort and the result of my final cross country race,” Burns said. “I love to compete at the high level of New Englands with so many fast kids from Connecticut, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Maine, because the races are always physical, unrelenting, and fun. Saturday was no exception. However, I didn’t achieve my goals for this cross country season, so I can’t help but feel unsatisfied. I’m extra motivated to train hard over the winter and spring to achieve my goal times on the track and hopefully challenge some school records.”