by Jim Flint
RANDOLPH CENTER ‒ Vermont Technical College’s 5k cross country course holds true to the spirit of the sport. The course starts in an open field then narrows to a footpath between two rows of trees. A portion of the course is paved, making spikes unfavorable. Most athletes wear racing flats. Midway through the race, runners make a rectangular loop around an apple orchard, with uneven ground and four sharp right-angle turns.
Craftsbury Academy was one of seven high schools competing Saturday at the Randolph/White River Valley Invitational. The meet drew 26 varsity boys and 19 girls. Six varsity boys and one varsity girl represented the Chargers.
Charlie Kehler last ran in the Randolph Invitational in 2021. Of 215 varsity boys at the 2021 race, Kehler was the fastest freshman. His 5k time of 17:52 placed 18th that year. The 2021 Randolph race was his first time breaking 18 minutes.
Two years later, Kehler, the defending Vermont D-III state champ, was ready to lower his course mark. Conditions were warm and humid, but not overly hot. Kehler cruised the course in 17:37, outpacing Nick Kidder of Spaulding High School. Kidder was the runner-up in 17:53.
“Charlie took the lead from the gun and ran well,” said Craftsbury’s head coach Mike Levangie. “The plan was to run comfortably – challenged, but not pressured.”
Matt Califano (18:35), Alex Califano (19:09), and Silas Hunt (19:33) took the third, fourth, and fifth places for the Chargers. The question was, who would be the fifth man on the Charger squad?
Soren Stelma-Leonard, a freshman, was up for the task. Running in his first high school meet, he placed 15th for Craftsbury, in 23:25. His older brother, Lenny, graduated in the spring from the Academy. A natural leader, Lenny was captain of last year’s cross country team and a role model for his younger sibling.
“Soren was on a mission at Randolph,” said coach Levangie. “He likes doing harder things.”
Owen McKibben rounded out the Charger boys squad. He ran a personal best 5k time of 27:15 at the Randolph/WRV Invitational. His older brother, Noah, was a member of Craftsbury’s 2021 D-III state championship cross country team.
“Owen was our athlete of the week,” said Coach Levangie. “He lowered his personal best time from 30:40 at the Essex Invitational.”
The Charger boys easily won the Randolph/WRV Invitational with 21 points. Randolph (39 points) and Richford (62 points) were the only other boys squads scoring as teams. Northfield (15 points) was the only school at the meet with five runners scoring as a girls varsity team.
Anika Leahy was Craftsbury Academy’s sole entry in the girls varsity race. Leahy, a junior, executed her race plan patiently. Moving up 10 places in the last half of the race, she placed second in 22:54. Anya Young, a sophomore from White River Valley High School, won the girls race in 21:30. Leahy lowered her 5k time from a 23:41 effort at the Essex Invitational on September 2.
“Anika ran a smart race by not going out too fast,” said Coach Levangie. “She is a strong runner who has learned how to do a negative split.”
The Craftsbury cross country team has a challenging two-week training block before the next race, September 23, at the Richford High School Invitational.
“We’ll be running on tired legs that day,” said Coach Levangie.