Cross country: Mohawk Trail harriers cap season at state meet

  • Mohawk Trail’s Grace Poplawski runs down the home stretch during the WMass Div. 2 girls cross country championship last week at Northfield Mountain. Poplawski and the Warriors capped their cross country season on Saturday with an 18th-place team finish at the MIAA Div. state meet in Gardner. STAFF FILE PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 11/16/2019 6:54:06 PM

GARDNER — There’s never a good time for a team to get sick, but it’s especially tough when it comes right before the state championship.

That was the case for the Mohawk Trail girls cross country team, as the Warriors were barely able to practice in the week leading up to Saturday’s MIAA Div. 2 state meet at Gardner Municipal Golf Course.

They had qualified after a third-place team finish last week at the WMass Div. 2 championship, but settled for an 18th-place team finish out of 20 teams on Saturday.

“It’s tough when you aren’t healthy going into a race,” Warrior coach Joe Chadwick said. 

Lenox took first as a team on the girls side, followed by runner-up Mount Greylock and third-place Triton Regional.

Weston’s Carmel Fitzgibbon dominated the race, taking first overall after crossing the finish line with a time of 18 minutes, 31 seconds without another runner in sight. Pope Francis’ Emily Boutin was the runner-up in 18:46, followed by Mount Greylock’s Kate Swann in third with a time of 19:28.

Senior Grace Poplawski was the first Warrior to cross the finish line, taking 40th out of 176 runners with a finish of 21:07.

It was the culmination of what was a spectacular season for Poplawski, her first year participating in the sport. 

“Even though she’s a senior, she has a real future in this sport,” Chadwick said. “She could run in college if she wanted to.” 

Poplawski finished within a pack of runners, saying she felt having other people to run with and catch improved her time. 

“I felt pretty good,” Poplawski said. “Just trying to catch up to the next person in front of me and keep working on that throughout the race. I just wanted to give it my all.” 

It would be wrong to call the course in Gardner an easy one. The golf course is full of hills and turns, which wears on runners as they travel along it. 

Though a challenge, it didn’t seem to faze Poplawski.

“Once you go down the hill, there’s another up,” Poplawski said. “It’s definitely challenging but it was a lot of fun. Having tough competition makes you push a little more.”

It was a solid bounce-back performance by Warrior Erika Looman. The senior was sick at last week’s Western Mass. championship and didn’t finish with the time she wanted. Looman held her own against the state’s best on Saturday, and she was the third Mohawk runner to cross the finish line, taking 129th with a time of 23:02. 

Teammate Erica Szewczyk, a sophomore, crossed just one second before Looman, registering a 127th-place finish.

As a senior, Looman felt the experience gained by running at the state meet will help the younger girls on the team. 

“It sets this team up really well for next year,” Looman said. “I really liked the uphills. I do well in the uphills but the downhills I struggled. I was pretty balanced the whole time.”

Frontier eighth-grader Leah Gump was the lone non-Mohawk Trail area runner to race on Saturday, and she took 132nd with a time of 23:06. 

Eighth-grader Sierra Upton was the fourth Warrior to cross the finish line at the 23:50 mark, good for 152nd place. Freshman Savannah Simmons took 155th with a 23:59 run. Senior Carli Cusimano came in 165th with a 25:15 finish, followed closely by sophomore Caitlin Upton, who was the next runner to cross at the 25:19 mark, taking 166th.

On the boys side, Mohawk’s Dennis Simmons was the lone area runner to qualify for the state meet.

Chadwick hoped his sophomore runner would come in around the 18-minute mark, and he did just that, as Simmons crossed the finish line at the 18:01 mark, placing him 78th out of 178 runners in the Div. 2 field.

Simmons, who likes running hills, felt the course suited his skill set.

“It’s been one of my weaker seasons, but I feel like I’ve improved,” Simmons said. “It’s a lot of rolling hills here. I feel like I had to be fairly conservative on the ups but I felt like my long stride helped me on the downhills. I was able to do a lot of passing on downhills which is one of my strengths. It was a good course. I like it a lot.” 

The top runner in Franklin County this season, Simmons said he isn’t used to running in packs like he does at bigger meets, though he doesn’t mind doing it.

“Pack running is definitely a different style,” Simmons said. “I don’t do a lot of it but I enjoy the game part of it.”

Martha’s Vineyard took first on the Div. 2 boys side, followed by Parker Charter Essential and Hopedale.

Arlington Catholic’s Sean Kay was the first runner to complete the course with a time of 16:03. John Lucey of Newburyport took second, finishing at the 16:18 mark, and Joseph Thumann of Whitinsville settled for third with a 16:21 finish.

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