H.S. Cross Country Preview: Harriers set to tackle Franklin County trails

  • Frontier’s Abigail Howard runs to a first-place finish during a meet in South Deerfield last fall. Howard and the Red Hawks boast the largest roster in Franklin County this season. STAFF FILE PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Mohawk Trail’s Dennis Simmons competes in the WMass Div. 2 championship last year at Northfield Mountain. Simmons is the top returning runner in the area on the boys side. STAFF FILE PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

For the Recorder
Published: 9/30/2020 5:18:04 PM

High school cross country returns to Franklin County today, as runners from six local schools take to the trails for the first meets of the fall. Like the rest of the abbreviated fall slate, the sport will look different than it has in the past. 

Athol, Frontier, Greenfield, Mahar, Mohawk Trail and Pioneer are fielding both boys and girls teams this fall, and will compete against one another in dual meets. Hopkins Academy will join the area schools in competitions.

A slew of changes have been made to make the sport as safe as possible. A maximum of 25 runners are allowed to compete for each race (25 boys, 25 girls), and no JV races will take place. Say goodbye to nail-biting stretches at the finish line, as runners will be spaced out in staggered starts of five per team, meaning the winner of the race won’t be determined until every runner has completed the course.

Each runner is required to wear a mask at the start and finish of the race. On the course, the mask must be on throughout unless the runner is more than six feet apart from everyone else. 

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” veteran Mohawk Trail coach Joe Chadwick said. “I’ve been doing this for over 40 years and I’m finally able to say I’ve seen it all.” 

In a pure cardio sport, having something blocking your breathing isn’t an easy ask for athletes who are trying to get every bit of oxygen in their body while racing. To prepare, athletes are testing different masks to find what works best for them. Some teams have also tried to practice predominantly with the mask up in case they have to do it throughout a race. 

Even with the modifications, coaches say their runners have adapted.

“When training with a mask, you have to breathe through your nose rather than your mouth,” Mahar coach Sarah Woodward said. “You have to train to breathe differently. It’s a challenge, I’ve been doing it with them and I can tell you it’s not easy. They’re fine with it and getting used to it. They know if they don’t follow the rules, they’re off the team.”

Home course advantage should come into play more than ever this season, as another rule change states that visiting teams aren’t allowed to walk the course before meets. Instead, they must use a virtual map to get an idea of the path they’ll race on.

One final change comes in regard to the postseason, as there won’t be a PVIAC championship race, a Western Mass. championship race or a state championship race.

With only team scores being tallied, the hard work of a strong season won’t be rewarded with individual honors racing against the best Massachusetts has to offer, yet some don’t see that as a problem. 

“It’s racing for the sake of racing,” Greenfield coach Stu Elliott said. “It’s almost unfortunate to count team scores. To see running to simply run is awesome. To win a cross country race is something you’ll never forget, and the only bragging rights this year will be to those people.” 

Athol coach Aric Davis echoed that sentiment. 

“We all have a shared view of what cross country is to us,” Davis said. “I like it because it gives you the cardio and exercise but it allows you to connect to nature. It’s beautiful to go out and do that and it’s awesome to be able to do that this year.” 

With football, soccer, cheering and volleyball moved to the newly-created Fall II season, numbers are higher for most teams than they have been in the past. As most schools are engaged in virtual learning, being able to get out of the house, see friends and run has led to high enthusiasm for each team going into the season.

“It’s wonderful to be back with the kids,” Frontier coach Bob Smith said. “Missing the spring (season) for the first time in 40 years, I’m just so glad we’re able to do this. The kids are really excited to have something to do. They needed this. Competing isn’t the number one goal. Participation, enjoyment and keeping the kids safe is what we want to accomplish this year.”

“For kids to see each other and have that contact has been really nice,” Pioneer coach Gina Johnson added. “This sport draws a particular kid and personality. They tend to have lots of good, positive energy so I don’t think it’s any different. I think they’re really excited to be out and able to do something.” 

Here’s a closer look at each team:

Athol

COACH: Aric Davis

BOYS ROSTER: Freshmen — Alexander Wiseman, Antonio Carbone; Seventh-graders — Brent Boudreau. 

GIRLS ROSTER:Seniors — Lily King; Sophomores — Ava Notarangelo. 

OUTLOOK: The Red Raiders added cross country back to their fall sports catalog this year, with five runners opting to join the program.

Coach Aric Davis is hoping as the season goes on, he will be able to get more runners to join.

“We’re just trying to drum up more support,” Davis said. “We’ve had more students join this week. It’s difficult when they aren’t in the hallways, we’re relying on social media and word of mouth to let people know we’re doing this.” 

Davis understands the challenge of this season, but with smaller numbers, he’s been able to work with each runner on a more individual basis. He hopes to see them continue to grow as the season goes on. 

Frontier

COACH: Bob Smith

BOYS ROSTER: Seniors  — Tom Alber, Aden Gray, Elias Rivadeneira-Goodwin, Oliver Sackrey, Kai Sharp, Samuel Wright; Juniors — Patrick Boyden, Amos Kohrman; Sophomores — Erich Brown, Dan Fellows, Asa Jackson; Freshmen — Aleks Carey, Jack Carey, Benjamin Desmond, Sam Keyes, Amory Maxey, Benjamin Sackrey; Eighth-graders — Oliver Brown, Aaron Desmond, Mason Smith; Seventh-graders — Luke Howard, Christopher Mitchell. 

GIRLS ROSTER: Seniors — Olivia Deane, Skyler Dennie, Charlotte Doulette, Reilly Isler; Juniors — Blanche Reading, Sadie Ross; Sophomores — Angelina Egland, Renee Hait, Abigail Howard, Carolena Johnson, Fiona McFarland, Cheryl Moreau, Ayla Starr, Cadince Wells-Robinson; Freshmen — Lucia Doulette, Leah Gump, Iris Hill, Nicole Plasse; Eighth-graders — Mary Burt, Hannah Davis, Isabella Graves, Sasha Malo, Lilly Novak; Seventh-graders — Emma Johnson. 

OUTLOOK: The Red Hawks have by far the largest team in Franklin County, with many talented runners returning from last season. 

With so many runners, Frontier is practicing three times a week in person and twice virtually through Strava, a running app which allows coaches to track the distance and pace of runners.

With fewer runners allowed to compete in each meet this year, veteran coach Bob Smith must find creative ways to get everyone involved. 

“We have seven meets so everybody will get a chance to run in at least three,” Smith said. “We’re going to designate which runners will go ahead of time. Then the next meet, we’ll keep a core of runners, 7-10 that run every meet and float everyone through the season.” 

The Red Hawks are without Gehrig Brynda this year, who transferred to a private school, but still have a plethora of talented runners left. Smith expects Dan Fellows to take over the No. 1 spot on the boys side, while the girls side is returning its entire core of runners from a year ago.

Smith is once again expecting big things from Abby Howard, Angelina Egland, Sasha Malo and Leah Gump. One major addition to that group is Olivia Deane, a star volleyball player who Smith is excited to have on board.

“She’s a stunning athlete,” Smith said. “She’s running really, really well. Everybody is working really hard.”

Greenfield

COACH: Stu Elliott/Patrick Garland

BOYS ROSTER: Juniors — Erick Badillo, Andy Bostrom, Liviu Mihailicenco, Gianni Passiglia, Theo Popusoi, Emanuel Rosca; Sophomores — Ethan Bross; Freshmen — Jackson Caron; Eighth-graders — Miles Chattman, Nate Johnston, Thomas Twaddell. 

GIRLS ROSTER: Seniors — Johanna Guiod, Shane Subeldia; Juniors — Kaci Breiwick, Kandice Lu; Freshmen — Ava Fortin, Natalie Grunwald. 

OUTLOOK: “Guardedly optimistic” is one way coach Stu Elliott described his expectations for the season. 

The Green Wave are returning both their No. 1 boys and girls runners, and they’ve added other talented athletes to the team.

Andy Bostrom was the top boys runner a season ago, but might be pushed by newcomer Theo Popusoi, one of the top athletes on the team who is transitioning to cross country from soccer. 

“He’s an incredible athlete,” Elliott said. “We’re excited to see what he’s able to do on the course.” 

Elliott is also expecting big things out of freshman Jackson Caron, who is moving up to varsity this year. 

On the girls side, Candice Lu should once again be the top runner for Greenfield, with Shane Subeldia pushing for that top spot. Johanna Guiod has improved each year with the team, this being her sixth running for the Green Wave.

Mahar

COACH: Sarah Woodward

BOYS ROSTER: Juniors — Samuel Cardona; Sophomores — Jeffrey Kidwell, Danield Kidwell, Stephen Gaj; Freshmen — Jeffrey LaPlante, Michael Gemelli; Eighth-graders — Aiden Drake.

GIRLS ROSTER: Seniors — Delaney Parker; Sophomores — Kayley Murphy; Seventh-graders — Ella Manson.

OUTLOOK: The Senators are putting out nearly a brand new team from a season ago, as just four boys runners and no girls runners returned from last year’s squad. 

Daniel Kidwell was one of Mahar’s top runners from a season ago and his brother, Jeff Kidwell, is joining him on the trails this fall. Freshmen Jeffrey LaPlante and Michael Gemelli are track runners who coach Sarah Woodward has been impressed with through the early parts of practice, while soccer player Steven Gaj is adapting well to the change of sport. 

Though the girls side doesn’t have experience on a cross country course, it does feature a pair of great athletes. Delaney Parker led Franklin County in goals scored on the soccer field last year, and is joined by teammate Kayley Murphy as new harriers. Woodward is excited to see how their natural athleticism translates. 

With a small team and no postseason meets to qualify for, the Senators’ goal is to improve each day and continue to challenge each other.

“Our goal is to PR and get better times and just have fun,” Woodward said. “All of their focus is on making themselves better.” 

Mohawk Trail

COACH: Joe Chadwick

BOYS ROSTER: Connor Bailey, Sean O’Dea, Vincent Gauthier, Dennis Simmons, Moshe Close. 

GIRLS ROSTER: Erica Szewczyk, Lydia Foote, Isabella Pettengill, Cleome Gardner, Ellie Pinkham, Lexi Chasse, Jasmine Smith, Winter Garafalo, Caitlin Upton, Savanna Simmons, Sierra Upton. 

OUTLOOK: The Warriors have been a powerhouse on the girls side in recent years, but lost top runner Grace Poplawski to graduation a year ago.

Even still, Mohawk Trail is returning plenty of strong runners this season and should be able to win multiple meets this fall.

“We’ve been lucky the last couple years to have an outstanding runner, whether it was Meghan Davis or Grace last year,” offered coach Joe Chadwick. “Even though we don’t have that one outstanding runner this year, we have a lot of great runners. It’s a very close group.” 

On the boys side, Dennis Simmons returns after finishing as the top runner in Franklin County a season ago.

“I really want Dennis to run some good times,” Chadwick said. “He’s a junior this year, he ran a really good 2-mile indoors (9:56). I hope he runs some good times and colleges notice him. His work ethic has changed so much now that he’s in high school.” 

Pioneer

COACH: Gina Johnson

BOYS ROSTER: Samuel Bodenstein, Jonathan Bodenstein, Griffin de Ruiter, Noah de Ruiter, Ezekiel Singh, William Thomas, Maddax Wegiel. 

GIRLS ROSTER: Samantha Baldwin, Allison Clary, Skyler Cohen, Amelia Fowler-Shaw, Laila Heilman, Sahana Heilman, Lucy Koester, Bryanna May, Charlotte Relyea-Strawn. 

OUTLOOK: Coach Gina Johnson has been impressed with how hard her runners have worked throughout the summer to get in shape, and she feels her Panthers are in a great spot heading into the dual-meet slate.

Noah de Ruiter returns after a solid 2019 season. He’s been running in road races throughout the summer and looks to be one of the top Pioneer runners this year. 

He’ll be pushed for the top spot by both Jonathan and Samuel Bodenstein. 

“Jonathan Bodenstein is a soccer player that came over to cross country,” Johnson said. “He’s a Bodenstein — they have the drive in them and runner instinct. Fun to watch the two siblings. He’s going to push himself. Before you know it, he’ll be pretty strong.”

Johnson is excited to have Laila and Sahana Heilman on the team this year, as both came over from the soccer team. The two are great track runners who both have a shot at being the top runner on the girls side for the Panthers. 




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