ConVal hosts first cross-country meet since 2016

ConVal's Vincent Hollenbeck hits the track for the final stretch.

ConVal's Vincent Hollenbeck hits the track for the final stretch. PHOTO BY BEN CONANT/BEN CONANT PHOTOGRAPHY

ConVal senior Jake Alonso rounds the athletic fields. 

ConVal senior Jake Alonso rounds the athletic fields.  PHOTO BY BEN CONANT/BEN CONANT PHOTOGRAPHY

ConVal's Marcus Jordan runs the hill.

ConVal's Marcus Jordan runs the hill. PHOTO BY BEN CONANT/BEN CONANT PHOTOGRAPHY

ConVal's Mason Deschenes holds off a Milford runner on the challenging hill.

ConVal's Mason Deschenes holds off a Milford runner on the challenging hill. PHOTO BY BEN CONANT/BEN CONANT PHOTOGRAPHY

 ConVal senior Nathan Klonel races in his first and only home meet.

 ConVal senior Nathan Klonel races in his first and only home meet. PHOTO BY BEN CONANT/BEN CONANT PHOTOGRAPHY

ConVal senior Jamie Post makes his way uphill.

ConVal senior Jamie Post makes his way uphill. PHOTO BY BEN CONANT/BEN CONANT PHOTOGRAPHY

ConVal's Brian Alonso runs the opening stretch. 

ConVal's Brian Alonso runs the opening stretch.  PHOTO BY BEN CONANT/BEN CONANT PHOTOGRAPHY

ConVal’s Nicolas Cepeda gets it going.

ConVal’s Nicolas Cepeda gets it going. PHOTO BY BEN CONANT/BEN CONANT PHOTOGRAPHY

ConVal's Kyra Lavoie acknowledges her fans. 

ConVal's Kyra Lavoie acknowledges her fans.  PHOTO BY BEN CONANT/BEN CONANT PHOTOGRAPHY

ConVal's Brielle Proctor near the beginning of the race. 

ConVal's Brielle Proctor near the beginning of the race.  PHOTO BY BEN CONANT/BEN CONANT PHOTOGRAPHY

ConVal's Sara Mackie races the final mile-and-a-half.

ConVal's Sara Mackie races the final mile-and-a-half. PHOTO BY BEN CONANT/BEN CONANT PHOTOGRAPHY

ConVal's Selena Woodhouse (20), Kyra Lavoie (11) and Mariah Woodhouse (19) run behind the high school. 

ConVal's Selena Woodhouse (20), Kyra Lavoie (11) and Mariah Woodhouse (19) run behind the high school.  PHOTO BY BEN CONANT/BEN CONANT PHOTOGRAPHY

ConVal senior Elizabeth Petrov makes the climb.

ConVal senior Elizabeth Petrov makes the climb. PHOTO BY BEN CONANT/BEN CONANT PHOTOGRAPHY

ConVal's Whitney Adair races uphll.

ConVal's Whitney Adair races uphll. PHOTO BY BEN CONANT/BEN CONANT PHOTOGRAPHY

ConVal's William Simard races up the hill on ConVal's cross-country course on Wednesday, Sept. 27. Simard won the race, which was the first home race at ConVal since 2016.

ConVal's William Simard races up the hill on ConVal's cross-country course on Wednesday, Sept. 27. Simard won the race, which was the first home race at ConVal since 2016. PHOTO BY BEN CONANT/BEN CONANT PHOTOGRAPHY

ConVal's Sean Witt passes the concession stand. 

ConVal's Sean Witt passes the concession stand.  PHOTO BY BEN CONANT/BEN CONANT PHOTOGRAPHY

ConVal's Tyson Schuneman hits the homestretch. 

ConVal's Tyson Schuneman hits the homestretch.  PHOTO BY BEN CONANT/BEN CONANT PHOTOGRAPHY

By BEN CONANT

For the Ledger-Transcript

Published: 09-29-2023 4:27 PM

The Cougar cross-country team bounded over their home course Wednesday afternoon in the first race hosted at ConVal since October 2016. 

"It feels really strange, but at the same time right, that we're finally having at least one home meet," ConVal senior runner Elizabeth Petrov said after Wednesday's meet against Hollis-Brookline and Milford.

ConVal has churned out more than its share of star runners over the years, and as part of that rich running history, the Cougars hosted races at the school for decades, the course looping through the woods behind the high school and down behind South Meadow, loping alongside scenic marshland ablaze with fall foliage in the later part of season.

But after some grumblings from visitors and home runners alike about a treacherous portion of forest with ankle-turning roots, ConVal stopped holding home races after 2016, when future Division I runners Evan Coyne, Clare Veverka and Rachel Hurley were merely sophomores. They'd all graduate from college before the Cougars would hold another home meet. 

The long gap meant seven years of student-athletes unable to race in front of their home crowd and seven years of senior nights held at away meets 45 minutes from Peterborough. So when athletic director Kevin Proctor and cross-country coach Spencer Fetrow both joined ConVal in their new positions last year, they made it a priority to return racing to the campus. 

"You go into the gym, you'll see on the wall, we make good runners here," Proctor said Wednesday. "It makes sense for us to get back into hosting meets and tournaments - and especially with cross-country."

ConVal's runners did their training back on the old wooded course and found the trail conditions were actually somewhat better than some of the away courses they run on. Fetrow paced out a 3.1-mile course, and with the help of community volunteers and the ConVal maintenance staff, the trail was cleaned up, filled in and ready to go for Wednesday's race. 

"I love the running culture," Proctor said. "You say 'We need help,' and people come out of everywhere to help out. It's awesome."

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ConVal's girls' team were the first runners to compete on the new course Wednesday. Petrov described the course as mostly flat, with a few up-and-downs leading to what she called the "funky woods," and then the big uphill climb from the lower field hockey field to the upper athletic complex -- a significant grade that doesn't grace many other courses around the state.

"The funky woods, and that big hill, that's the ConVal element," she said. 

As she emerged from those woods, Petrov and the rest of the runners were met with cheering fans, enough energy to give them a boost up the home hill; of course, endorphins alone aren't enough to power one through the climb. 

"[The fans] make you focus just a tiny bit more on getting up the hill, though you still need to have discipline to actually get up and over that hill,” Petrov said.

The last time ConVal runners climbed that hill in interscholastic competition, sophomore Evan Coyne won the boys' race; now a Bryant grad, Coyne is assisting the Cougars, and on Wednesday, he watched junior William Simard do the very same thing. Simard, ConVal's top runner this year, won Wednesday's race in 16 miutes, 49 seconds.

"With the boys, William is his own force," Fetrow said. "He's only a second-year runner, but he runs more mature than he is as far as years doing it. He practices hard; he did more summer mileage than anybody else on the team. He runs smart."

Senior Jamie Post (sixth,18:30) was the next Cougar in, followed by fellow senior Nathan Klonel (11th, 19:23), Mason Deschenes (13th, 19:58) and Marcus Jordan (18th, 20:24). All four have been running well this fall, Fetrow said, with the freshman Jordan giving the upperclassmen a goose with his recent output. Jordan fell in the woods during Wednesday's race and still gutted out a top-20 finish. 

"He's a great freshman runner to have," Fetrow said. "He's really pushing that group."

Also finishing for the ConVal boys were senior Jake Alonso (23rd), Vincent Hollenbeck (28th), Sean Witt (29th), Tysen Schuneman (31st), Brian Alonso (33rd) and Nicolas Cepeda (34th).

Hollis-Brookline's girls got the better of ConVal Wednesday, sweeping the top seven spots, but the Cougars still got good performances from their group. Whitney Adair is ConVal's No. 1, and she showed it with an eighth-place finish in 24:54. Petrov (ninth, 27:49) was next, followed by Sarah Mackie (10th), captain Brielle Proctor (11th), Mariah Woodhouse (13th), Kyra Lavoie (14th) and Selena Woodhouse (15th).

 "The girls' team is small on numbers, but as close as any team I've ever seen - hanging out, spending time together. The camaraderie that comes out of it has been fantastic,” Fetrow said.

For example, he pointed out, the girls held a vote for team captain, and every member of the team received at least one vote.

"That just doesn't happen," he said. 

After the races, the Cougar seniors -- Petrov, Post, Klonel and Alonso -- were honored in a ceremony on the soccer field, a tradition lacking in previous years but well-received by the Cougar seniors who are ready to let it rip for the rest of their final season. 

Petrov said that it still hasn't really sunk in that it's her last year at ConVal, but that her approach to the rest of the season won't leave any regrets behind.

"[I'm going to] just go hard, and do as much as I can, so I can look back and be really happy with all that I've tried,” she said.