Feehan boys, girls formidable
Bob L’Homme knows Bishop Feehan took a big hit, but the Shamrocks boast a bevy of experienced talent fully prepared to absorb the blow.
After losing state champion Viviana Hanley to graduation, the two-time Division 2 girls’ cross-country champs bring back four scorers and have boosted camaraderie as the Bay State Invitational meet in Wrentham kicks off the major meet season today.
“I’m a guy who just loves to stress team,’’ said L’Homme, the reigning Division 2 Coach of the Year. “Last year we were fortunate to have that No. 1 runner, but this year we have to stress the team aspect of things. We even said this last year, since we have everyone back we could be an even stronger team because the rest of the team has to come together. We’re talking about the pack mentality and how to run together.’’
The pack L’Homme refers to includes Katie Powell and Erin Svensen, two senior captains who finished in the top 20 in the state meet last fall. Sophomore Abbie McNulty finished sixth overall at the Ocean State Invitational last Saturday in Rhode Island, at which the Shamrocks, ranked first in the latest Massachusetts State Track Coaches Association poll, came in second.
Feehan’s biggest challenge will likely come from Hamilton-Wenham, the state meet’s runner-up and winner of the 2010 Division 5 EMass Divisional Championship. Under coach Steve Sawyer, the Generals have never won the state title, but are gunning for their seventh straight Eastern Mass. title. At Ocean State, junior Meg Blatchford led the way with an 11th-place finish in a total team effort that put a scare into L’Homme.
“Halfway through the race on Saturday, Hamilton-Wenham was well ahead of us and they looked really good,’’ L’Homme said. “I was really nervous. They’re going to be a very formidable opponent.’’
Dennis-Yarmouth junior Jordan O’Dea is the top individual returner. The field hockey convert finished second to Hanley at the state meet last season in her first year running cross-country, and has her coach optimistic about the sixth-ranked Dolphins.
“[O’Dea] is as good as any kid we’ve ever had,’’ D-Y coach Jim Hoar said. “She’s now starting to believe she can run. I knew she was talented, but I didn’t know how talented. You just can’t teach what she has. She’s always there.’’
Girls’ Division 1 Weymouth, the top-ranked team, has four of its top-five runners back from last season’s state title squad, so it’s only natural that other teams have their sights set on dethroning the champs.
The Wildcats are relishing the challenge.
“They’re pretty good at not dwelling on how they’re viewed or perceived,’’ coach Mike Miller said. “They’re just doing the work to stay healthy and be at the finish line. We don’t focus on rankings and, to be honest, we scout our opponents on a need-to-know basis.’’
After the graduation of Jill Corker, Weymouth brings back seniors Bridget Jaklitsch and Julie Tevenan and juniors Molly Barker and Morgan Fitzgibbon, all of whom were in the top 20 at states last season. Joining them will be freshman Ashley Betts.
Second-ranked Haverhill, No. 3 Lincoln-Sudbury, and No. 4 Whitman-Hanson should challenge the Wildcats, a challenge that Miller feels Weymouth is more than prepared for thanks to a self-described “middle-class work ethic’’ that pervades his team.
The top individual in Division 1 should be Peabody junior Catarina Rocha, the state runner-up last fall and an All-Scholastic in her first season running cross-country.
Rocha already has impressed, breaking Peabody’s course record by 20 seconds last weekend.
“Last year, she exceeded my expectations,’’ said coach Jose Rocha, Catarina’s father. “The expectations now for her are to improve on last year’s performance. That’s the goal.’’
Boys’ Division 1 The boys of Brookline know what to expect. After all, they’ve been here before.
The defending state champs expect to contend again after bringing back five of the seven who ran in the state meet. All five are seniors, while two juniors - Aaron Klein and Jesse Fajnzylber - were in the Warriors’ top four at the Amherst Invitational last weekend. Senior Chernet Sisay won the meet in 15:41 by eight seconds over Marshfield’s Kevin Thomas.
“Our approach stays the same, I don’t think that changes,’’ Brookline coach Mike Glennon said. “I think a lot of it is just expectations. Any good high school program in any sport, success breeds success, and the expectations become what’s expected of the team. I think we’re going to be the state champions again and I think we can go to nationals.’’
Nipping at the Warriors’ heels likely will be Lowell, the two-time defending Division 1 Eastern Mass. champions. Though the Red Raiders graduated a few runners, Glennon expects a “very strong freshman class’’ will step up for coach Phil Maia’s squad, which will feature junior Patrick Coppinger, senior Alexis Andujar, and senior Nathan McCarthy as the top three runners.
“In the past few years, it seems like we haven’t been afraid to challenge the top,’’ Maia said. “If those kids can do it last year, there’s no reason we can’t do it again this year.’’
Individually, expect Peabody’s Nick Christensen to be in contention. Christensen, a senior All-Scholastic, finished third in the Bay State Invitational, the EMass meet, and the All-State meet.
Boys’ Division 2 Top-ranked Pembroke returns the defending state champion in Wesley Gallagher but will have some work to do after losing Ryan Kelley and Brendan Adams, who finished first and third at the EMass Division 4 meet and in the top six at states.
Bishop Feehan, ranked second in the Division, won the Ocean State Invitational, had six runners within 34 seconds of each other, and beat out St. John’s (S) and Lowell, the second- and third-ranked teams in Division 1, respectively, even though only junior Henry Dodge finished in the top 20.
The Ocean State provided an early glimpse at the Shamrocks’ potential to unseat Pembroke.
“I know it’s still early, but it’s a nice benchmark,’’ said L’Homme, who also coaches the boys’ team. “Henry’s clearly been the No. 1 guy, but the next five are all interchangeable. On any given day, one of them has come through.’’