As the first race of Saturday’s Frank Kelley Invitational starts in Wrentham, cross-country teams from all over Massachusetts will get a chance to see how their runners compete in the first major meet of the season. But for the Bishop Feehan girls, the Division 2 state champions the past four years, it also means discovering where they stand in an entirely different division.
This year’s MIAA realignment moved the Bishop Feehan boys’ and girls’ teams into Division 1, but coach Bob L’Homme does not see the change as a disadvantage. As coach of both teams, L’Homme recognizes that they will need to learn the “lay of the land,” but thinks the girls, in particular, will have no trouble competing.
“We have a huge, difficult road ahead moving up to Division 1,’’ said L’Homme, whose team is 3-0 this fall. “But this year is probably the best team we’ve ever had.”
The Shamrocks bring back last year’s individual Division 2 state champion, senior Abbie McNulty, who recently finished the Martha’s Vineyard Invitational in 17:32, breaking the course record.
Other top returners include senior Brynna Harum, senior Kate Svensen, and junior Jackie Cutillo, all Eastern Athletic Conference All-Stars last fall.
“The beauty of this year’s team is that we will have eight really good girls vying for the seven spots at the state meet,” L’Homme said.
But Bishop Feehan is not the only team planning on challenging for state honors.
After finishing in eighth at the All-State meet last year, Lexington coach Rebecca Trachsel feels confident about this season.
“We have a very unified team,” Trachsel said. “I feel the excitement and energy in all of them, and I have no doubt they’ll go far.”
All of Lexington’s top runners are back, including Middlesex League All-Stars junior Olivia Manickas-Hill, junior Grace Vogelzang, junior Cassie Peterson, and sophomore Paige Lawler.
Lexington also has two freshmen, Grace Leightheiser and Alex Wolf, who are among the team’s top-10 runners.
Division 2 girls
Hamilton-Wenham lost three seniors but hopes to improve upon last year’s fourth-place finish at All-States.
Coach Steve Sawyer recalls being Division 2 state champions in 2008, and thinks his current team has the ability to finish the season in the same fashion. Led by senior captain Emily Horgan, the Generals won their 100th straight dual meet earlier this month and now haven’t lost one since 2004.
“The girls are stepping right up, ready to rock ‘n’ roll,” said Sawyer, who also should have Emily Weigand (11th at All-States) back and healthy after an early-season injury kept her on the sideline.
In her first season coaching at Ursuline Academy, Alison Wade hopes to match last year’s win at the Division 6 EMass meet.
“Our goal for this year is to match or surpass last year’s accomplishments,” Wade said. “If we have success this season, it is going to be as a result of the efforts of all 50 team members.”
Division 1 boys
Cambridge is also making the switch to Division 1 and could provide stiff competition.
Coach Scott Cody hopes to do even better this season after placing second in the Division 2 EMass meet last November, and he has his top-five runners back to help make it happen. Returning All-Scholastic Sam Stubbs enters the Frank Kelley Invitational, named for the Wilmington coach of 57 years, as the winner of the Division 2 EMass meet.
“This is the best group I’ve had so far, and this is my 18th year coaching,” said Cody. “I have a tough time holding them back, they want to go faster and farther.”
Newton North coach James Blackburn thinks his squad possesses the talent to earn an All-State title, which the Tigers won back in 2005.
“We are lucky we didn’t lose many people from last year,” said Blackburn. “We have a strong group of seniors, especially our two-top runners.”
Seniors Gabe Montague and Mike Schlichting enter the race with impressive cross-country and track credentials. Last spring, Montague placed second in the 800 meters at All-States while Schlichting finished fourth in the two-mile.
Division 2 boys
As last year’s Division 2 state champ, Pembroke is aiming to defend its title and continue its run in the Division 4 EMass meet, which the Titans have won the past five years. Six of Pembroke’s top seven runners return, including senior John Valeri and brothers Billy and Christian Stafford. Valeri and Christian Stafford are both returning All-Scholastics.
Newburyport graduated one of last year’s top finishers, Joe Santo, but coach Don Hennigar still feels optimistic that they can improve on their third-place finish at All-States. Junior Nick Carleo, a returning All-Scholastic, broke the 23-year-old Newburyport home course record this September with a time of 14:59, and is already considered one of the top runners in the state.
“I think we can do better this year,” Hennigar said. “As long as we can stay healthy and everything goes as planned, we hope to finish in the top two teams.”