With St. John’s Prep as the host of the inaugural BSR Mid-Distance Classic, it seemed only fitting that Nathan Lopez would conclude Friday night’s competition with an impressive victory in his own backyard.
The Eagles senior ran away with the title in the seeded section of the mile with a fast, early-season time of 4 minutes, 16.21 seconds. Teammate Paul Lovett led the pack through an opening 400-meter split of 64 seconds. Lopez took over a half lap later and never relinquished the lead from there, winning by a solid four-second gap over runner-up Timothy Rank of Littleton (4:20.67). Lovett secured third at 4:23.13.
“Today was a day to come out and go for our first hard-ish effort of the season,” Lopez said. “I haven’t really done too many other races since the end of indoor. I just wanted to come out and give it a decent shot out there and see what I could do. I think it went well.”
While the field was strong with the top six breaking 4:30 on a sunny and moderately cool evening at the Danvers school, a much-anticipated showdown between Lopez and Westford Academy’s Paul Bergeron never materialized. Lopez found out a few days prior to his race that his friendly rival, who was listed as a the No. 2 seed with a 4;19 best, wouldn’t be at the starting line.
The WA junior was just two weeks removed from clocking an 8:52.78 best for 3,200 meters at the Arcadia (CA) Invitational. During the indoor season, Framingham’s Sam Burgess, Lopez and Bergeron were the 1-2-3 finishers in an epic two-mile race at the Meet of Champions.
“I think if he was in it, I probably would have changed the race plan a little; try to run it more like an end-of-the-season race where I’m just going for the win and not really thinking about the splits and doing what I felt is best for me.,” Lopez said. “Since he wasn’t there, I changed the mindset more where I tried to hit certain points in my race and figure things out early in the season and be able to build off that going into the end of the season.”
The University of Michigan commit has big plans in his final season as a high-schooler. One of those goals is to win an unprecedented third straight individual title for the two mile at the Meet of Champions.
“I think it would be cool to get that three-years-in-a-row mark,” he said. “I think, to do that, it will come with a fast time. I guess, time-wise, I’d like to go for that state record of 8:50 (8:50.82 by Chris Barnicle of Newton North, 2004) with Paul and Sam and maybe a couple of other guys; just see what happens. Overall, I’d say the big goal for the season is to go for that state title and see how fast I can go while doing it.”
The first-time meet, which was sponsored by HOKA and Marathon Sports, was a huge success with quality performances and exciting races in all six boys’ and girls’ events.
In the girls’ mile, Andover’s Molly Kiley was a gun-to-wire victor. She crossed the line with a time of 5:13.18. After passing through 800m in 2:30, the Golden Warrior senior did have thoughts of potentially breaking the five-minute barrier, but that wasn’t the intention prior to the start.
“It’s kind of like the first race of the season. I was coming off a little injury,” said Kiley, who has a PR of 5:07. “I was just hoping to get closer to 5:10. That’s a good school record. Through the 800, (the announcer) was saying maybe sub five (minutes). I don’t know. I was kind of pushing to see if maybe that could happen. I think the wind made it a little hard. I just kind of slowed down without really realizing it.”
Placing second overall was Emmy Belvin of Mount St. Charles Academy in Rhode Island. Belvin ran a 10-second best of 5:18.33. Concord-Carlise’s Jacqueline White was third with a time of 5:18.55. Newburyport’s Abby Kelly also went under 5:20, taking fourth at 5:19.58.
“I was just kind of hoping around 5:20,” Belvin said. “I was really happy and excited for (my time). It’s a big PR, better than last year, better from indoor. I am excited about that and I’m hoping to do better in the future.”
In a tactical race at the beginning, nearly all the top finishers in the boys’ 800m ran negative splits on the final lap. Top seed Ryan Connolly emerged the winner in an exciting down-to-the-wire win over Westford Academy’s Austin Desisto, Connolly broke the tape in 1:57.43, while Desisto was timed in 1:58.11. Concord-Carlisle’s Ryan Pavlik was third at 1:59.52. The next four across the line were all under 2:03.
Connolly blazed his last 400m in 57 seconds.
“Going in I wanted to run 56 (second) for my first 400 and kind of got boxed in,” said the UMass-Amherst-bound senior, owner of 1:55.5 best. “The pace was slow. It was 60 seconds for the first 400. I spent the whole first lap trying to get on the outside, I was so boxed in. At the 400, I found a way out and I just had a lot of energy because it was a slow pace after the first 400. I just had to give it my all in the last 400 and ran 57 (seconds), so it was good.”
Desisto was prepared for a quick final 400m.
“When I went by 300 (meters), I heard a coach say that the pace was slow,” he said. “I could feel it. I didn’t wanted to really take the 400. I was hoping somebody would have taken it at that point and nobody did. I kind of knew, based on history, that coming through at 60 (seconds), I knew it was going to be fast that last lap.
Westford Academy’s Abby Hennessey was an upset winner in the girls’ 800m. After trailing top-seed Ashlynn Witt for most of the race, Hennessey came on strong down the final backstretch and powered past the Wachusett senior with less than 50m left to take the crown in an all-time best of 2:16.94, Witt held on for second in 2:17.83. Westford Academy’s Sydney Weis placed third overall with a time of 2:22.95.
With a half lap remaining in the race, Hennessey admitted she didn’t think she would be able to catch Witt.
“I heard my coach yelling and I kept going in the last 100 meters there,” she said. “I just gave it all I got.”
La Salle Academy, one of three RI teams in the meet, dominated the girls 400m with teammates Christian Cormier (1:00.67), Alexis Caggiano (1:02.06) and Kayla Bacon (1:04.20) taking the 1-2-4 spots. Winnacunnet’s Matri Clifford broke up the Rams’ party by placing third at 1:02.34.
La Salle completed the sweep in the event with freshman Garrett Giroux-Pezzullo edging Ipswich’s Colin Hansen at the finish. Both were timed in 51.70. Worcester Tech’s Cyprian Ojatabu was third at 52.60.