Mascenic runners qualify for New England Championship

For nine local runners, Saturday’s Meet of Champions presented an opportunity.

The annual state cross-country meet is where the top male and female runners from around New Hampshire compete for the right to move on to the final race of the season. And two will now be making the trip to Cumberland, Maine, this Saturday after qualifying for the New England High School Cross-Country Championships.

Mascenic sophomore Tim Fafard finished seventh overall in the boys race and Mascenic senior Elizabeth McGurk placed 23rd in the girls race to advance to the regional race for the first time.

“We knew based on performances that they’d both be in the pool (to make New Englands),” said Mascenic coach Mike Smith. “If you match it up, he was ranked eighth and finished seventh. She was ranked 36th and finished 23rd, so they ran well. We’re really happy with the performances, but I’d like to think with one more week, one more sharpening there is a possibility for an even better performance.”

For the ConVal girls, Saturday marked the final day of 2012, as the Cougars finished 15th out of 19 teams and did not place a runner in the top 25. The best six teams and top 25 individual runners qualify for New Englands.

“The goal was really to come and have a successful meet,” said ConVal coach Judy Heddy.

Fafard entered as the eighth ranked runner in the state after his third-place finish in the Division III race on Oct. 27. And on Saturday, Fafard used a strategy that allowed him to do one better.

“The first mile was to get a feel for how the race was going, stay near the front and keep an eye on the top runners,” said Fafard. “After that it was just to work my way through the pack.”

His time of 16 minutes and 6.3 seconds ranked first among all sophomores and was second from D-III, defeating champion Levi Frye of Fall Mountain by almost 10 seconds. Fafard finished behind the top three runners in Division I, top two from D-II and Bow junior Andrew Weckstein, who finished runner-up in Division III. Coe-Brown junior and D-II champion Jeremy Brassard won the boys race in 15:46.1. Last year, Fafard qualified for Meet of Champions but did not run.

“I didn’t really know I was in front of him until I crossed the finish line,” Fafard said of Frye. “But it’s sort of nice to know that someone who beat you last week you beat them this week.”

McGurk was disappointed with her fourth place performance at the D-III race and intended on making up for it at the state meet.

“I’m ecstatic. A lot better race this week,” said McGurk. “Last week I was really nervous and it showed in the race. This week I just decided that my season is not going to end with a bad race. I came into this race with a different mentality and it showed. You can tell in the way I ran.”

The Mines Falls course at Nashua South High School fit her style a little better. It is faster and flatter than the Derryfield Park course used for the divisional meets and McGurk took full advantage. Her time of 19:22.8 set a new personal best and was well over a minute faster than her 2011 appearance, where she finished 71st.

“The big goal was to hit PR, a big PR and that’s what I did,” said McGurk. “I wanted to run faster than I ever have.”

McGurk easily defeated Division III champion Laconia senior Sami Hicks, who finished 45th, as the Mascenic senior placed second out of all D-III runners, trailing only Hopkinton sophomore Emily Calder.

“She looked a lot more comfortable and didn’t look as distressed as she was the week before,” Smith said.

The ConVal girls grabbed the sixth and final team-qualifying spot in Division II and made the program’s first appearance in the state race since 2009. On Saturday, the Cougars earned 363 points and were sixth out of the Division II teams, trailing Oyster River by 46 points for 14th overall.

“The goal for the team was to ultimately make New Englands, but we knew that was a little unrealistic,” said junior Rowan Wilson. “We were ranked 15 out of 19 (teams), so our real goal was to get under that.”

It was the end of a surprise season for ConVal. The Cougars were the 19th best team in D-II last year, but with the addition of Wilson, junior Sydney Michalak and senior Ryleigh Lorimer, they became an immediate threat to make the state meet as a team.

“In August, I had two returning girls and that was my girls team,” Heddy said. “This has just been a huge step. We were 19th in our division last year and we were sixth last week, so I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Wilson, who moved into the district from Maine, led ConVal for a second straight week by placing 42nd in 19:45.8. Wilson was 14th in Division II and edged out Michalak by two spots and six seconds at Derryfield Park. Michalak made the switch from soccer for her junior season and dominated early on for the Cougars. It took time for Michalak to learn the ways of cross-country running. As a triathlete, she was used to the distance of a race, but not what went into it. On Saturday, Michalak finished 54th in 20:01.9.

“I went out way too fast and then I kind of fizzled,” said Michalak. “But I have next year. This was an incredible experience.”

Over the course of the season, Wilson and Michalak had quite a rivalry, as the two combined to lead ConVal in each race.

“It was great to have her. Team competition always makes you push harder and it always helps to have someone to run with that’s close to your speed,” said Wilson. “We both push ourselves to do better and it really could have gone either way because we’ve been so close in every race.”

Junior Courtney Fisher placed 85th with a time of 20:46.3. Lorimer was 122nd and Shannon Glidden took 125th. Junior Maggie McKenna and freshman Jacqueline Hendrixson also ran for ConVal, finishing 144th and 145th.

“The inter-team competition really helps make the whole team faster,” said Michalak. “Rowan and I are always trying to beat each other. Shannon, Courtney and Ryleigh are always trying to catch up to us. There’s always someone you’re trying to catch.”

ConVal will return all but Lorimer for next year, when the expectations are already high.

“Realistically I didn’t expect this year that we’d move on,” said Heddy. “As far as next year, I think with more experience it could be a possibility.”

On Saturday, Fafard and McGurk will compete against the top six teams and 25 individual runners from the other four New England states. The boys race will be held at 11:30 a.m. at Twin Brook Recreation Center, followed by the girls race at 12:30 p.m.

“These guys are competitive so it’s not like I have to gear them up to run hard,” said Smith.

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