Cross-country: Orioles bear down at homecoming meet

  • The Conant cross-country team hosted Hinsdale and Fall Mountain for homecoming Thursday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant cross-country team hosted Hinsdale and Fall Mountain for homecoming Thursday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant cross-country team hosted Hinsdale and Fall Mountain for homecoming Thursday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant cross-country team hosted Hinsdale and Fall Mountain for homecoming Thursday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant cross-country team hosted Hinsdale and Fall Mountain for homecoming Thursday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant cross-country team hosted Hinsdale and Fall Mountain for homecoming Thursday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant cross-country team hosted Hinsdale and Fall Mountain for homecoming Thursday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant cross-country team hosted Hinsdale and Fall Mountain for homecoming Thursday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant cross-country team hosted Hinsdale and Fall Mountain for homecoming Thursday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant cross-country team hosted Hinsdale and Fall Mountain for homecoming Thursday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant cross-country team hosted Hinsdale and Fall Mountain for homecoming Thursday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant cross-country team hosted Hinsdale and Fall Mountain for homecoming Thursday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant cross-country team hosted Hinsdale and Fall Mountain for homecoming Thursday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant cross-country team hosted Hinsdale and Fall Mountain for homecoming Thursday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant cross-country team hosted Hinsdale and Fall Mountain for homecoming Thursday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant cross-country team hosted Hinsdale and Fall Mountain for homecoming Thursday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant cross-country team hosted Hinsdale and Fall Mountain for homecoming Thursday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant cross-country team hosted Hinsdale and Fall Mountain for homecoming Thursday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant cross-country team hosted Hinsdale and Fall Mountain for homecoming Thursday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant cross-country team hosted Hinsdale and Fall Mountain for homecoming Thursday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant cross-country team hosted Hinsdale and Fall Mountain for homecoming Thursday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant cross-country team hosted Hinsdale and Fall Mountain for homecoming Thursday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant cross-country team hosted Hinsdale and Fall Mountain for homecoming Thursday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant cross-country team hosted Hinsdale and Fall Mountain for homecoming Thursday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant cross-country team hosted Hinsdale and Fall Mountain for homecoming Thursday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant cross-country team hosted Hinsdale and Fall Mountain for homecoming Thursday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 9/17/2021 7:59:52 PM

If the Conant cross-country team needed any extra incentive to run hard at their homecoming meet Thursday, they got it, in the form of a black bear spotted lurking at the top of the course just before the race got underway.

Ethan Vitello and Austin Poikonen were giving visiting Fall Mountain a quick course walkthrough when they spotted the bear up on the hill above the Conant track facility – directly in the cross-country course.

“We were like ‘Look out! Run away! Retreat!’” Poikonen said, and the Orioles and Wildcats booked it back into the fenced-in track as the bear ambled toward Conant Cemetery. 

“That thing’s shoulder height was like two-and-a-half, three feet high,” Vitello said.

A black bear’s top speed is 35 miles per hour, Conant senior and self-made ursine expert John Mormando volunteered –  quite a bit faster than any human can run.

“If Usain Bolt can’t run 35 miles per hour, I’m not running 35,” Vitello said.

Of course, when there’s a bear on the cross-country course, you don’t have to outrun the bear. You simply have to outrun the person behind you, and the Orioles did just that in both the boys’ and girls’ contests, where they squared off with Fall Mountain and Hinsdale. 

Junior Kylie Aho is Conant’s lady leader of the pack; on Thursday, she held back a bit in order to tempo the rest of the Oriole girls, waiting until the first big downhill to break away and cruise to an easy victory.

“The whole point of today was to get everybody together so that we can be a top contender,” Aho said, “because we have talent, which is really great. It’s exciting.”

The plan worked to perfection; about a minute and a half after Aho came in at 22:54, the next pack of Orioles hit the final straightaway, where freshman Bella Nero dug deep and sprinted to a second-place finish, with Amarah Lapinsky, Amber Gnoza and Neve Mormando right behind. Once Lainey Holombo and Alleigh Lapinsky came in sixth and seventh, the Orioles had a clean sweep.

“The girls are a force,” coach Bill Edson said. “They did exactly what they wanted.”

The Conant boys had to contend with an upstart Fall Mountain team that put five runners ahead of the top Oriole at a meet earlier this fall. 

“They’re very good,” Edson said. “They’ve got that core five that run really tight together and it was our job to break them up, and we’re getting there.”

Thursday was Conant’s first race with their entire boys’ team in attendance, as Poikonen and Vitello are also soccer stars splitting their time between both teams; with their full roster running, the Orioles looked much closer to their potential.

“We brought our glue guys back in, and now we’re competitive,” Edson said. 

Vitello sped to a victory in 18:32, a good 30 seconds ahead of Fall Mountain’s top three of Ben Tetu, Ben Frithsen and Edward Gowdy.

John Mormando was just five seconds back of fourth, taking fifth in 19:20; Poikonen (seventh, 19:57), John Oakes (eighth, 20:04), Nathan Alajajian (10th, 20:35) and Austen Richard (12th, 22:06) made up the rest of Conant’s top five. 

Despite those strong finishes from the Orioles, the Wildcats walked away victorious on the boys’ side, giving the Orioles a target going forward in the season.

The next step for Conant? Some more of Edson’s “crock pot science” – those little by little daily improvements to put the Orioles in contention for a state title.

“I think by states, it’s going to be anybody’s game,” Edson said. 

If they run like there’s a black bear chasing them, these Orioles might just have a shot.


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