The last two years at the Ocean State Invitational, the boys’ course record has been broken. In 2021, Conard (CT) alum and All American Gavin Sherry was the first runner to break 15 minutes on the five-kilometer course at Goddard Memorial State Park with a winning time of 14:58.7. That record proved to be short-lived with recent Saint Raphael grad and national champion Devan Kipyego establishing the current mark of 14:57.7 at last year’s meet.
For the third straight year, could we see another record in the featured Championship race on Saturday? With the level of talent expected to be at the starting line, there’s certainly potential for it to happen.
Just who are those top individuals? Scanning through the entries, here’s a few that caught our eye this weekend on the fair but quick 5K terrain at Goddard.
Paul Bergeron, Westford Academy (MA) – Here’s the runner we consider to be the favorite on Saturday. Bergeron was second at last year’s race where he was timed in 15:10. That performance would be the start of an incredible junior season for the Stanford commit. Just two months after Ocean State, Bergeron clocked 14:43.74 to take second to Framingham’s Sam Burgess at the Division 1A Championships and would follow that effort a week later by claiming the individual title at the Meet of Champions (MOC). The gifted senior later qualified for the CHAMPS National Championships in San Diego where he earned All-American honors by placing 15th overall at the Dec. 10 meet. Bergeron was third in the two mile at the MOC during the winter where he clocked an indoor PR of 9:04.08. He also ran 14:36.05 for the 5K in March at the New Balance Nationals. On the outdoor surface, Bergeron raced to a near state record of 8:51.88 at the Div. 1 Championships and also had a best of 4:10.62 at the BSR Elite Scholastic Mile. After his victory at the D1 meet last spring, Bergeron indicated a goal this fall of winning a national cross-country title. This will be his first major meet of the season since the spring. You know he will be focused on running fast. The WA standout rarely holds back and ALWAYS ensures the race is honest. With the right kind of conditions, we could be saying bye-bye once again to the course record.
Jimmy Wischusen, Union Catholic (NJ) – Wischusen is another runner we expect will be battling up front. The Vikings’ senior ran an all-time best of 14:33.94 for the 5K distance as a tenth-grader in 2021 on the laser-fast terrain of the Garmin RunningLane XC CHampionships in Huntsville, AL. He went sub nine minutes for the two mile during that 21-22 season by clocking 8:56.41 at the New Balance Nationals in March and went 4:09 for the mile. In his junior season last year, Wischusen has a season best of 9:05.80 to capture the NJSIAA Meet of Champions on March 5. In limited races during the spring, he ran 4:11 for the mile and 9:01.05 for 3,200m.
Brendan Thomas, Oliver Ames (MA) – Thomas is coming off a superlative junior campaign where he recorded a number of PRs in events ranging from the 800m to the 5K. In cross country, Thomas was a runner-up at the Division 1C Championships and was fifth overall at the MOC. For the two mile, he ran 9:06 for both indoor and outdoor track with an all-time best of 9:06.72 from the New Balance Nationals this past June.
Isaac Mahler, William Hall (CT) – Mahler appears to be the top harrier from the Nutmeg State that could be challenging our frontrunners. In cross country last fall, he was third at the State Open and fourth at the New England Championships where he was timed in a PR of 15:46 for the 5K course. During the outdoor season, he thrice went under 9:20 for 3,200m with an all-time best of 9:06.91 at the State Open, an effort that earned him gold at the championship meet.
Colin Fisher, Boston Latin (MA) – Here’s a runner we expect to make the biggest improvement since last year’s race. Fisher was 31st overall at the 2022 meet where he clocked 16:50. After a breakout season during the spring, we anticipate he’ll be among our top 10 on Saturday with a chance to crack the top five. Fisher proved he has the capabilities after racing to a PR of 9:13.55 to capture the two mile a the Div. 2 meet on May 26. He also registered a big-time best of 4:18.55 for the mile last spring.
Adam Balewicz, Nashoba Regional (MA) – The Nashoba senior is another Bay Stater that could be battling for a top position at Ocean State. He was the Div. 2A winner last year where he was timed in 15:26. He followed that performance by placing third at the MOC. He did not compete in outdoor track but did have bests of 9:22 for the two mile and 15:15.68 for the 5K during the winter months. The latter effort was set at the New Balance Nationals.
Cole Francis, Narragansett (RI) – Francis is one of two elite runners from the host state that are capable of placing high. As a sophomore last year, Francis was third in the Varsity 2 race at Ocean State where he was timed in 16:31.0. He went sub-16 at the Bob Glennon Twilight Invitational in mid October where he had a best of 15:56.70. Francis was fourth at the Class C Championships and sixth overall at the State Meet. His young career continued to soar once he hit the oval. Francis finished second in the 3K to Kipyego at the indoor states where he had his all-time best of 8:44.57. He also ran a best of 4:01.74 for the 1,500m in the spring. Francis, a victor at the Injury Fund Carnival this fall where he went sub-16, will be looking to lock horns with some of the region’s best. Don’t be surprised if he places among the top five.
Jason Padula, Smithfield (RI) – Padula will be ready to race with the best this weekend. At the season-opening Injury Fund Carnival, the Sentinel senior ran the fastest time of the day with a PR of 15:53.41 at Deerfield Park. He told us after that race that he recommitted himself to excel his final year as a high-schooler. In mid August, he showed that to us by winning the high school division at the Bobby Doyle Summer Classic where he clocked an impressive 25.44 for the five-mile course. Padula had a strong confidence-booster for this weekend’s race on Sept. 12 when he captured an important win over Cumberland’s Sam Henderson in a Northern Division match-up. Padula has proved recently that he’s capable of a time in the 15:20-15:30 range this weekend, perhaps faster.
Okay, so now who are the top teams we’ll see this weekend?
There are a plethora of schools that could be contending for the team plaque on Saturday.
For starters, there’s the defending titlist Westford Academy. The Ghosts scored just 69 points at the 2022 meet, 69 more than runner-up St. John Prep (MA). Westford Academy returns most from that squad, including its top two with Bergeron and Jack Graffeo, who ran 15:16 at the Div. 1A Championships and is a 4:19 miler. The Ghosts currently rank No. 2 in the BSR/HOKA Power Rankings for Div. 1. MA has several more schools that could be fighting for some top positions this weekend. There’s Lexington, the 2018 champions. The Minutemen, who are among the top 15 in the Power Rankings, feature six underclassmen among their top seven. Natick, which ranks No. 3 in Div. 1, placed third as a team at last year’s Ocean State Invite., The Redhawks lost just one senior from their 2022 squad. Newton South, a fifth-place finisher last year, could also be among the top teams this weekend. The Lions, who are No. 4 in the Power Rankings, have all five of their scorers coming back.
Another top returnee is Boston Latin. The Wolfpack, who were sixth at last year’s race, won the team prize this past weekend at the Highland Park Invitational. Boston Latin returns five of their top seven, including Bilal Elhaji, a victor at the Highland Invite. BC HIgh, which is No. 7 in the Div. 1 Power Rankings, will also be on the line with five of its top seven back from last year.
The favorite for team honors appears to be Union Catholic. The Vikings are currently ranked No. 2 in New Jersey and among the top 15-20 teams in the country.
William Hall is one of three CT teams in the Championship race. The Titans won the trifecta last year by capturing the Class LL, State Open and New England titles. There’s also East Lyme, who was the Class MM champion and seventh at the State Open. E.O. Smith has six returning runners, including its top four. Last year the Panthers were a runner-up at the Class MM Championships, State Open and New England’s.
Barrington is the top entry from the host state. The Eagles are ranked among the top three in the state.