Jaywalking: Wave girls reap benefits of x-country dedication

  • Greenfield’s Courtney Danielsen runs at the start of the girls cross country meet toward a third place finish on Oct. 17 at Highland Park in Greenfield. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Greenfield girls’ cross country team celebrates its Pioneer North championship on Oct. 17 at Highland Park in Greenfield. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Greenfield’s Jenna Silk runs toward the finish line at Highland Park in Greenfield. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Greenfield veteran Amy O’€™Sullivan runs down the final stretch to a first-place finish at Highland Park in Greenfield. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

Monday, October 30, 2017

Greenfield seniors Jenna Silk and Jamie Day still remember joining the girls’ cross country team five years ago as eighth graders.

Well, perhaps you can’t really say that either girl joined the Greenfield girls’ cross country “team,” per se, because at that point the Green Wave didn’t really have enough runners to score as a team. Back then, Greenfield had a boys’ team and also had a few girls who would run individually. So the word “team” was used loosely.

“We didn’t even have a girls’ team in eighth grade,” Day recalled. “But we stuck through it, and here we are.”

Where is Greenfield, you might ask? Day was alluding to the top of the Pioneer North standings, which is where Greenfield finished the regular season, giving the team its first league crown. It’s a long way from the days of running races without being able to even score as a team, but not something so far removed that the longest-tenured members of the team don’t remember. When Greenfield had captured its final league victory of the season on Oct. 10 over rival and perennial powerhouse Mohawk Trail Regional High School by a score of 25-30 to secure the league crown, Silk sobbed tears of joy.

“It was such a great feeling,” the captain said. “I started crying when I knew that we won over Mohawk. We were going into that race and it felt like a David and Goliath situation, where we thought we were the underdogs but came out on top.”

It may have seemed that way in years past, but this season the Green Wave not only had the most talented squad in the area, it had one that was dedicated to win. That meant starting captains practices early in the summer and meeting five days a week in the evening at Beacon Field to go off on runs.

“We were doing captains practices almost every day of the week just to get running in,” Silk said. “We wouldn’t run on weekends, but the majority of days we would usually run five to seven miles, sometimes more.”

None of this is to say that the team or any other area teams are not fully dedicated to the sport. What is most interesting about the Green Wave is seeing the evolution of a team and its members.

After Silk and Day joined as eighth-graders, the Green Wave got a couple other runners and finally had the five runners it needed to qualify as a team. Cross country scores are determined by adding up the top five finishers for a team, so if you have runners No. 1, 3, 5, 6 and 8 in a race, then you would have a team score of 23. Two more runners can also displace runners from the other team, so top teams will place seven runners.

Five years ago, Greenfield finished 4-6 overall, which was in fact its first year scoring as a team. It’s not as though the squad was devoid of talent, it previously just did not have enough bodies. Things improved dramatically the next season. That was the year that a talented freshman named Amy O’Sullivan joined the team, and another talented runner only helped improve the team. O’Sullivan said that when she joined the team, there was never any true thoughts of one day winning the league. In fact, after Greenfield beat Frontier in the final meet of the season that year, she didn’t even realize the team had nailed down a second-place finish.

“It was our last meet of the year and we had just beaten Frontier, 27-28, and (Greenfield coach) Stu Elliot was so excited because we hadn’t beaten Frontier in forever. He was like, ‘Guys, you just got second,’ and we were like, ‘In what,’” O’Sullivan recalled. “It’s because we were just running. Since then, we just worked hard and got better.”

Greenfield picked up another runner three years ago when Courtney Danielsen made the switch from field hockey to cross country. Danielsen, now a senior, ran indoor track during the winter of her freshman year and made a number of friends, all of whom ran cross country and track. When she played softball that spring, she missed her friends. She had already decided to stop playing field hockey, then decided to join the cross country team, which brought with it some irony.

“It’s funny, I quit field hockey because I hated running, but then when I played softball, I was kind of lonely because I wasn’t with my friends, so I said, ‘You know what? Why not do it?’ Danielsen said. “I had no conception of if we were good or not, I didn’t know how to score, I just went out and ran.”

When Danielsen started, she was not near the top of the lineup but she has taken nine minutes off her 5K time and joins O’Sullivan, Day and Silk in the top four. The one final piece coming into this season was a fifth runner with a solid enough time to help the team score well. Enter freshman Eva Heath.

Heath joined the team last season as an eighth-grader. She said she joined because she wanted a new challenge after previously being home-schooled. Not previously a runner, Heath was also shy, but she said she was quickly accepted by all the upperclassmen.

“I was really shy because all of these runners were so good, but they quickly turned out to be nice, friendly people,” Heath said.

Like Danielsen, Heath has also seen a drastic improvement in her time, shaving nearly four minutes in her time at Highland Park to jump up.

“We needed a fifth girl and Eva took that role seriously,” Greenfield coach Stu Elliott said. “She stepped in and it was really nice to see that happen.”

Greenfield had other runners step up as well, including junior Morghan Blanchard, who is the sixth runner on the team, and who said that winning was great, but that just being around the girls was rewarding.

“I just love the team,” she said. “For me, we didn’t even need to win. We have five girls leaving this year, so it won’t feel the same next year.”

And now Greenfield moves on to the postseason, which begins on Saturday with the PVIAC meet at Stanley Park and continues on Nov. 11 at Northfield Mountain for the WMass meet.

No matter how the season ends, the team will never forget its season, and neither will anyone else who enters the gymnasium. Greenfield athletic director Mike Kuchieski has already said he will be ordering a banner to hang in the gymnasium at some point, the first of its kind. But as Elliott said, the thing he will remember most is the culmination of the team coming together over the course of several seasons.

“The nicest thing about this whole thing is that I’ve been able to watch them develop as a cross country team,” he said. “I’ve been able to watch them develop as athletes and young people. For me, the rewarding thing as a coach is that moment when things click and it’s like, ‘Oh, that’s what I’m supposed to do.’”

Very nice moment during the Boston Bruins’ broadcast against the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday night. Bruins play-by-play announcer Jack Edwards paid his condolences to Kings’ trainer and Greenfield native Chris Kingsley, who’s mother Sharon Kingsley passed away on Oct. 12 at the age of 70.

I met both of Chris’ parents — Sharon and husband Bud — several times in my years working at the newspaper. When Chris brought the Stanley Cup to Greenfield in 2014, they were on hand and we spoke, them knowing me through their visits to the farmstand in the summer. I again bumped into them in 2015 when the New Jersey Devils stopped to practice in Greenfield. Sharon and Bud were on hand that day to speak with Michael Cammalleri, who was playing with the Devils, but had previously played for the Kings and knew their son well.

My condolences to the family.

Jason Butynski is a Greenfield native and Recorder sportswriter. His email address is jbutynski@recorder.com. Like him on Facebook and leave your feedback at www.facebook.com/jaybutynski.