Julie Hohenberg is noticing the little things when she runs this fall. She dodges apples littered on the trails of her home course near Burchard Park. The Weston High runner hears her own steady breathing in the woods during races, when the crowds disappear behind her.
“It’s almost kind of like a nice, surreal, calm vibe, and then once you’re out of the woods and [you hear] the cheering, that’s kind of when the chaos starts,” she said.
These observations stand out because they’re firsts for Hohenberg, a senior making her cross-country debut for the Wildcats. Following a breakout spring track season, Hohenberg switched from the soccer field to the trails, and is immediately slotting in as the program’s No. 1 runner.
Hohenberg had no plans to run distances as of spring, and fully expected to return to left wing for the soccer team. But she quietly built momentum during the 2021 indoor track season. For the spring, coach John Monz gave her a lofty goal: break 5 minutes in the track mile.
To even Hohenberg’s surprise, she crushed it. She laid down a 5:07.29 to win the D2 North race on her home track. Then in the All-State meet, Hohenberg found a new gear, finishing second in an astonishing 4:56.31.
“I didn’t really believe the time,” she said. “[Monz] and I were just really, really happy and proud.”
Said Monz” “I thought she was capable of it, but until you do it, you’re never really sure. She just followed the race plan so perfectly that we laid out for her. To see her run that time — that was really exciting.”
Colleges are noticing. Hohenberg says that before the All-State meet, she was largely being recruited by Division 3 schools, but is currently receiving interest from a host of D1 programs in New England. With a serious collegiate track career suddenly on the horizon, the senior decided to first get some rubber on the tires in cross-country.
“I kind of realized that I didn’t really want my first year of cross-country to be my freshman year of college,” Hohenberg said. “There are a lot of adjustments that go on your freshman year of college, and I kind of wanted to try and get myself kind of acquainted to the sport in the fall.”
Though she’s often considered a “track underclassman,” Hohenberg has exuded leadership from her first team practice.
“People definitely look up to her in terms of, not just her speed, but her enthusiasm for the sport, and also just how friendly she is to everyone,” junior Analiese Schact said. “She doesn’t brag about any of her accomplishments; she’s the opposite. She definitely isn’t flexing her goals on anyone, and she keeps pretty quiet to herself about what she’s accomplished.”
On longer workouts, Hohenberg trains with a core running group that includes boys’ cross-country sophomore Carsen Valenta, who set the Weston freshman record in the mile (4:48.35) last spring, and his classmate James Osborn.
“Normally we alternate who leads and who sets the pace for those,” Valenta said. “It’s pretty much all of us, and I think especially me and Julie, we help each other a lot.”
On Wednesday, competing in her first cross-country meet, Hohenberg finished first overall (15:47) in a tri-meet with Newton South and host Lincoln-Sudbury on its 2.49-mile course. She was satisfied with the initial performance, but noted it felt different from any race she had ever run before.
“It was something new to have a race of that length, because the first part of the loop, you hear everyone cheering, but then you go in the woods and it’s just dead silent, and then you come back out of the woods and then everyone’s cheering again,” she said.
Her coach was content, too; Monz is consistently wowed by Hohenberg’s textbook execution.
“She’s exceptional at following a race plan, she really is,” he said. “I joke with the other coaches. I say, ‘We have to be really careful before we tell her anything because when we tell her, she’s going to do it. So we better make sure it’s right.’”
Hitting the trails
▪ In the annual Clipper Relays last Saturday at Maudslay State Park in Newburyport, 2020 MSTCA Cup D1 winner Nathan Lopez paced St. John’s Prep to the boys’ title. The event is a 6-mile relay split into three legs of approximately 2 miles.
Lopez covered the distance unofficially in 9:42 before handing the baton off to junior Paul Lovett, who maintained the gap to set up senior Charlie Tuttle on the anchor leg. Tuttle crossed the finish line with 30:23 on the clock, 15 seconds ahead of second-place North Andover ‘A’.
“We got some good surprises,” St. John’s Prep coach John Boyle said. “We also got some things that were concerning or worrying, but we had some kids that really ran pretty well.
On the girls’ side, Pentucket took the top spot in 36:37, with its trio of senior Kaylie Dalgar, junior Audrey Conover, and senior Phoebe Rubio finishing more than a minute in front of second-place Lexington ‘A’.
▪ At the MSTCA Relays at Highland Park in Attleboro, Bishop Feehan’s trio of sophomore Lauren Augustyn and seniors Anna Boyd and Liz Borah combined to cover the 4.6-mile course in 28:26 for the Shamrocks. Weymouth (29:20) and Hopkinton (29:36) were second and third, respectively.
“We were happy with how the groups competed, we showed some depth,” said Feehan coach Bob L’Homme, whose program will host this weekend’s Highland Park Invitational. “We are hoping that Saturday will be a better indicator of where we are.”
In the boys’ race BC High (24:14.93) recorded a 1-second win over Burlington behind the legs of juniors Miles Kirby and Will Lock, and senior Gemsly Cajuste.
“It gets the competitive juices flowing,” BC High coach Seth Kirby said. “We are going to need that if we are going to succeed further down the road at the MIAA meets.”
▪ The Highland Park Invitational in Attleboro —with freshman, JV, and varsity races for boys and girls — is one of four invitational meets scheduled for Saturday. The 14th Vineyard Invitational at Martha’s Vineyard High will feature co-ed freshman, and boys’ and girls’ JV and varsity races. Also, the 25th Amherst Invitational will take place on the campus of Hampshire College, with 5k races for freshmen, JV and varsity.
In addition, the Mass. State Track Coaches Association is putting on the Ted Dutkiewicz Invitational at East Longmeadow High, featuring varsity boys’ and girls’ races, as well as 2.14-mile junior varsity and freshman races.
For the MSTCA, coordinating a full schedule of meets from an operational standpoint means reacclimating the coaches with procedural tasks that didn’t go on in the COVID-19 altered year.
“There’s a lot of things that I’m scrambling to do at the last minute because they are parts of the meets that we didn’t implement last year,” MSTCA director James Fletcher said. “But I always try to step back and say, ‘let’s not be frustrated’, because we are putting on a high quality product regardless.”
Correspondent Oliver Glass contributed to this story.