When he hosted his first invitational cross-country meet back in 2007, it was just one race, an all-girls’ 5K against Notre Dame Academy where he estimates 30 to 40 runners answered the gun.
It’s a little different now for longtime Martha’s Vineyard coach Joe Schroeder, whose annual Vineyard X-C Invitational will be celebrating its 16th year on Saturday. At a time on the island when tourism traditionally slows down, more than 700 runners will be hopping on a ferry this weekend to compete in one of five races (freshmen, junior varsity and varsity).
Schroeder recalled the inaugural event when the weather conditions drew most of the teams away. That is, except for Notre Dame Academy.
“Rick Kates was the coach and he was like, ‘Hey, let’s do this.’ He brought his squad over and no one else showed up because it was kind of rainy,” he said. “Our boys acted as marshalls and rode the lead bike.”
Twenty-five teams have signed up for this year’s invite, which is sponsored by Marathon Sports and HOKA. Among the schools are a few top-ranked squads from the recently-released MSTCA XC Poll, such as Wakefield Memorial (No. 4 for Division 2 girls and No. 3 for Div. 2 boys), Whitinsville-Christian (No. 3 for Div. 2 girls) and Norwell (No. 4 for Div. 3 boys). Some out-of-state competitions from Connecticut and Rhode Island will also be making the trip. RI entries include Barrington and Saint Raphael Academy, whose boys’ and girls’ teams currently rank among the top six in the state.
Schroeder believes the uniqueness of the event, and the fact that teams have to take a ferry to the island to compete, is one of its appeals.
But that’s not all.
“I think that’s part of the attraction but I also think that teams use this as a kind of motivator for summer training,” he said. “I can name a dozen coaches that have said that to me over the years. If you want to go to the Vineyard, you’d better put your miles in. I think it’s unique in that way.”
“It also allows teams to see what we got through on a weekly basis,” he added. “You take your longest trip, whatever it is, and add an hour and a half onto it, and that’s what we do every week, at least once, if not twice a week. That’s kind of one of the things teams look at when they’re done racing. There like, ‘Wow, you guys go through a lot.’”
The course is essentially the same 5K course from the initial year of the meet with a few minor changes. Former Bishop Feehan and Stanford great Abby McNulty holds the current girls’ record. Seh clocked a sizzling 17 minutes, 32.14 seconds in 2013. The boys’ mark of 15:52.6 is held by two-time winner and Plymouth North alum Nick McNamee from 2017.
“We haven’t had many changes to the course, just maybe a little bit on the start and finish. It’s pretty much been the same course,” Shroeder said. “It’s flat because we’re in the middle of the State Forest – lots of rocks, roots, sand and a little up and down. I call it very terrain. It’s not like a smooth path all the way. Times can be fast because you have long stretches where you don’t have to turn or do anything – just race.”
In terms of participants, this weekend’s meet is one of its biggest, attracting nearly 300 more runners than in 2022. The meet kicks off at 11 o’clock in the morning with a Freshmen Co-Ed 3K. It will be followed by separate girls’ and boys’ Junior Varsity and Varsity 5K events.
“The JV race is always big, just like any other invitational,” he said, “I’ll give credit to Rick Kates. He came up with the idea of a Freshmen Co-Ed race. We’ve been doing that for four or five years and it’s absolutely insane, so much fun. You have kids just going nuts because they don’t want to get beat. I love it. The freshmen race is just a great way to kick off the season”
Bay State Running will be on site, providing coverage of the meet. Marathon Sports will also there, selling plenty of merchandise.
11 a.m. – 3K FRESHMEN COED
11:30 – 5K JV GIRLS
12:15 p.m. – 5K JV BOYS
12:45 – 5K VARSITY GIRLS – 7 runners max.
1:15 – 5K VARSITY BOYS
- Plymouth South
- Notre Dame Academy – Hingham
- Falmouth Academy
- Martha’s Vineyard
- Whitinsville Christian
- Shepherd Hill
- Ledyard CT
- Boston City Wide XC
- Barrington RI
- Plymouth North
- Rising Tide
- Montville CT
- St John’s
- New Bedford
- St Raphael
- New Bedford