Mako record rules Division II meet
Natalie Mako leads her Frontier teammates at the start of the Western Mass. Division 2 Girls Cross Country Championship meet on Saturday at Northfield Mountain. Mako won the race with a record-breaking time of 19:19 Purchase photo reprints »
Natalie Mako in control of first place with roughly a mile to go during the Western Mass. Girls Division 2 Cross Country Champiohsnip. Mako, who beat the previous course record time by two seconds, finished 44 seconds ahead of the runner who took second. Purchase photo reprints »
Frontier Regional's Natalie Mako won the Girl's Division 2 Western Mass Championship Saturday at Northfield Mountain Recreation Facility in Northfield.
JOSH KUCKENS Purchase photo reprints »
Mohawk's Evan Wheeler, left, and Mahar's Zabien Shaw battle it out with roughly a mile to go in the Western Mass. Division 2 Boys Cross Country Championship on Saturday at Northfield Mountain. Both Wheeler, who finished 10th, and Shaw, who finished eighth, qualified for the state meet. Purchase photo reprints »
The start of the Western Mass. Division 2 Boys cross country meet Saturday at Northfield Mountain. Greenfield and Mohawk Trail high schools were among the teams competing. Purchase photo reprints »
NORTHFIELD — Even history can’t put up a fight against Natalie Mako.
The Frontier Regional School senior continued her unbeaten season by winning the Western Massachusetts Division II Girls’ Cross Country Championship in impressive fashion. Her 19-minute, 19-second finish on the 5-kilometer course not only distanced herself from the competition (she finished 44 seconds ahead of Mount Greylock Regional High School runner-up Emily Kaegi), it broke the meet record at Northfield Mountain Recreation Center by two seconds.
The old record was set in 2001 by Pittsfield High School’s Allison Johnson. Marblehead High School’s Shalane Flanagan, an Olympic bronze medalist in the 10,000 meters, set the state record of 17:54 in 2003.
Mako “hasn’t lost a race in this season. I’ve never had an athlete who could say that in cross country. This is my 34th season, and I’ve had some really great women runners, but none finer than Natalie. She just goes out, opens it up, puts it into the top gear and just stays there and doesn’t look back,” Frontier coach Bob Smith said. “We didn’t plan to have her win today. We planned for her to have fun and to qualify for (the state championships) next week. Whatever happened would be extra. And we got a whole lot of extra.”
While Mako didn’t realize she was chasing the record, she was getting motivation by thinking about another former runner who dominated the Northfield course: Longmeadow’s Camile Blackman, the individual champ in 2010 and 2011.
“Camile Blackman was my idol. She still is my idol. She’s an amazing runner and I tried to go for around her times, in the 19:20s,” Mako said. “I felt like I could have gone faster. It was a hard course and I wish I had something to push me a little bit more, but I had to do the best I could and I ran the fastest I could at the time.”
In the team competition, Mohawk Trail Regional High School finished fifth with 149 points. Frontier took sixth (168). Lenox Memorial High School (78) captured the team title.
Although the Northfield course is challenging, with a daunting hill early in the race, it proved to be to Mako’s advantage, as the Red Hawks often practice on the course and have grown accustomed to its unique nature.
“I love running in the woods. I think it’s so much fun. It’s a tough course. To do well on it, it’s hard. You can’t just sit back and relax when you’re on this course. ... It’s my favorite place to be.” Mako said.
The fact that the state championships will take place on the same course in a week should play into Mako’s advantage.
“We try to come up once a week. Just because that first big hill is pretty formidable. The way we figured is, the more times we come up, the smaller the hill gets,” Smith said. “I don’t think the state coaches like to have it out here because this is a hard and a really great cross country course. I think for some of them, it’s like, ‘Oh my God, I’ve never seen a course like this.’ But for us, coming many times, it’s almost like home. And I think that works to our advantage.”
The course’s difficulty could also provide a different sort of challenge for Mako, who missed or was hampered much of last season because of a stress fracture in her leg.
“She’s got a little bit of an advantage in that she knows the course, but it’s a disadvantage, I think, to have to run here two weeks in a row. This is a tough course. It takes a long time to recover from this,” Smith said. “That’s one of the things great about Natalie is that she’s come to understand the process of recovery. We’re really careful about how we train and she’s very careful so never falls back into that injury that she had before.”
Mako was one of three area qualifiers for the state meet. Greenfield High School eighth-grader Eve Charest finished sixth in 21:17.34. Abbi Yezierski of Mohawk placed 13th (21:44.50). Natalie Hale of Pioneer Valley Regional School was 20th overall (22:10.90) and 11th from non-qualifying teams, just missing a state berth (the top 10 from non-qualifying teams advance).
• Three area boys qualified for the Division II boys’ state meet. Mahar Regional School sophomore Zabien Shaw finished eighth overall in 17:57.40, Mohawk’s Evan Wheeler came in 10th with a time of 18:01.47, while Greenfield’s Colen Stack was 16th in 18:23.81.
Scott Carpenter of Lenox cruised to an easy individual victory in 16:31, while Mount Greylock claimed the team title.