As he was coming down the final straightaway, Nathan Lopez turned his head to the stands and gestured to the crowd to pick up the noise. He was enjoying the moment, every bit of it.
And why wouldn’t he enjoy the moment?
For the third straight year, the St. John’s Prep senior was the King of the Two Mile, the Duke of the Deuce at the MIAA Meet Of Champions on Thursday. Kicking into another gear on the closing lap, Lopez was able to break away from one of the most talented fields that the state has ever assembled to break the tape a winner with a meet record of 8 minutes, 59.2 seconds. On Day 1 of the two-day meet, his effort erased the 48-year-old hand-held mark of 9:00.0 by former Wayland standout Alberto Salazar and the FAT timed MA record of 9:00.52 by Concord-Carlisle alum Thomas Ratcliffe from 2016.
Lopez victory comes a week after finishing second to Westford Academy’s Paul Bergeron at the Division 1 Championships where he ran his previous best of 9:00.93. Bergeron won that race with a state best of 8:51.88.
“I kind of came into the race a little upset about last week,” Lopez admitted. “That was a good motivator all week. I kind of put my head down and really focused on this race. I knew this was going to be the toughest of the three (two mile, mile, 4×800)that I will run. I just came in with the mindset that I am going to do what I do best; just get out there and race.”
Under very hot conditions with the temperature in the 90-degree range, Bergeron (fourth, 9:05.68) did the early pace-setting, leading a large group of runners through an opening mile of 4:32. Among the pack were eventual 2-3-5 finishers – Framingham’s Sam Burgess (second, 9:03.45), Uxbridge’s Aidan Ross (third, 9:03.82) and Oliver Ames’ Ryan Sarney (fifth, 9:08.21). Burgess made a move to the lead around 500 meters, only to have Lopez respond with a decisive surge to the front just before the gun lap.
“Just coming into the last lap, I kind of remembered my sophomore year. I did the same exact move,” he said. “I just kind of went for it. I was a lot less experienced then. But just being a racer, I just went for it and it worked out today.”
Billerica’s Anna McElhinney captured the girls’ two mile in 11:05.55. McElhinney took the patient approaching, hanging behind top seed and last week’s Div. 1 winner Ava Criniti of Lexington for much of the eight-lap race. She overtook her rival with a little more than a lap remaining and carried that position to the finish. Criniti held on for second with a time of 11:10.05.
” I kind of played it safe and smart. I kind of waited until I knew I could kick,” she said. “That for me was 500 meters. The last 500 meters I just kicked it and that did the job.”
McElhinney’s victory avenges a runner-up finish to Criniti at the MOC this past indoor season.
Hopkinton’s Sean Golemblewski won the 400-meter hurdles with a time of 53.82. Finishing second was Noah Stegmeier at 54.94. North Reading’s Giuliana Ligor took the girls’ race with a time of 1:02.69.
Top seeds Ryan Connolly (1:54.11) and Newton South Amelia Everett (1:58.12) were the first to break the tape in the respective boys’ and girls’ 800m. Wellesley’s Christopher Brooks (21.42) and Tewksbury’s Jayani Santos blazed to state leaders in their respective 200m races.