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ConVal’s senior cross-country runners have their eyes on the prize

  • ConVal's senior cross-country runners — Schuyler Michalak, Sarah Newell, Clare Veverka, Rachel Hurley and Evan Coyne — look promising to bring home some hardware from the state championship meet at Derryfield Park on Oct. 27. Staff photo by Ben ConanT

  • ConVal's senior cross-country runners look promising to bring home some hardware from the state championship meet at Derryfield Park on Oct. 27. Staff photo by Ben Conant—



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Wednesday, October 24, 2018 3:0PM

Derryfield Park is alive this time of year, with the annual blaze of fall foliage ringing the Manchester cross-country course. When ConVal’s senior runners make their way through the fallen leaves dotting the path at Saturday’s state championship meet, the Cougars will have their eyes open for the reds, yellows and pinks of autumn – the colors of their toughest opponents, Coe-Brown, Souhegan and Oyster River.

“That’s what I think about when I’m racing,” said ConVal senior Sarah Newell. “Pink shorts, red jersey, yellow jersey – pass them!”

Newell and her fellow senior runners Clare Veverka, Rachel Hurley and Schuyler Michalak have already dispatched all of those top teams at one point or another this season and will look to keep that up at the state meet Saturday.

“That was a boost for us knowing that we could compete with those schools,” said head coach Lance Flamino. “How it shakes out on that day will be exciting to see – hopefully good for us. I don’t think it’s a big stretch to say we have the best top three of any school in the state. It’s just a matter of tying it in with our four and five.”

Veverka, Hurley and Michalak have been some of the best in the state this year, with a slew of top-ten finishes between them. New Hampshire Cross-Country currently has the Cougar girls ranked fourth overall in the state and second in Division II behind Coe-Brown.

“We’ve all been working together and supporting one another and the team has been very successful because of that,” Hurley said. “I think our team could win it, I think that’s a really good goal for us. If all of us have good races, it’s definitely something we can do.”

That trio will look to go sub-19 on Saturday to put ConVal in a good place, but it will likely come down to the performance of Newell and junior Marina McMahon in the fourth and fifth scoring spots. That pair got it done at Coe-Brown in September as the Cougars edged out the Bears on their home course and another race like that could put ConVal over the top.

“I definitely have improved from last year,” Newell said. “I’ve gotten faster times in the same races, so I’ve definitely grown. I think states is the most important race for me so hopefully I’ll do well with that.”

Newell said she’s been more immersed in competition this season, something that’s spread throughout the Cougar team.

“She’s working really hard,” Veverka said. “We’re all working really hard to put it all on the line and get as many jerseys as we can, as many places as we can and get in as close as we can to each other to really narrow that pack time.”

Michalak said her team’s unity and spirit have been the key to success this season.

“It’s awesome because we’ve really come together as a team and we’re working so well together instead of just individually,” Michalak said. “That’s been a huge change in the team dynamic.”

The senior standout for the ConVal boys is Evan Coyne, who has his sights on improving last year’s 11th-place DII finish.

“Definitely top ten and hopefully top five,” Coyne said. “That’s what I want to shoot for this year.”

The competition up front will be fierce, but Coyne will look to best 17 minutes and keep up with presumptive favorite David Reynolds of Merrimack Valley.

“As an individual, Evan’s primed himself for a big race,” Flamino said. “He wants to be out front, in the thick of things.”

Coyne and the rest of the boys have taken to calling themselves “The Dark Horses,” an identity which is rallying them together.

“We’re an unexpected threat,” Coyne said. “People underestimate us this year. We know we have the potential to give the other teams a run for their money.”

Coyne will likely be followed closely by junior Harrison Kim, his closest training partner.

“He’s been right on my heels, which is a good thing,” Coyne said. “It’s been awesome.”

Coyne and his teammates want to top last year’s 12th-place team performance and, he said, they have the right mindset to do it.

“We have to stay close as a team, support each other, work hard together and be focused,” Coyne said. “That’s something we’ve been stressing this year. Last year we fooled around a little too much and didn’t lock in until the week before states.”

Flamino said he hopes both teams will qualify for the following weekend’s Meet of Champions at Nashua and then look toward a return to Derryfield for the New England Championships on Nov. 10. No matter what happens, he’s proud of his strong crop of seniors.

“They’re a good group of kids, really consistently working hard, putting in the time and being patient,” Flamino said. “Fun to coach.It’s going to be a bummer when it’s over.”

The ConVal girls take the course in Manchester at 1 p.m. Saturday with the boys’ start time at 1:40.