Without any disrespect to his competition, Ryan Leslie knew there was only one way to race at Saturday’s Catholic Memorial Invitational.
Once he didn’t see names like Oliver Ames’ Brendan Thomas, Nashoba Regionals’ Adam Balewicz or Westford Academy’s Paul Bergeron and Jack Graffeo in his race, he knew what he had to do.
“I was looking at the entry list, and there wasn’t Brendan or Adam or any of the top guys in the state,” said the Billerica senior. “I realized it would probably be a solo effort from the gun, so I prepared mentally for that.”
Looking every bit strong from the first mile of the three-loop course to the finish line, Leslie coasted to the victory in the Silver Race with a solid time of 15 minutes, 5.6 seconds on the moderately-challenging five-kilometer landscape of Franklin Park. The BMHS senior was comfortably ahead of Somerville’s Atticus Kaye, who secured second at 15:26.4. Billerica’s Patrick Hall was third in 16:52.6.
Leslie breezed through his opening mile at just under five minutes. With a smooth and relaxed stride and an already sizable gap on the chase pack, it appeared inevitable at that point that the real race might be for second.
“I felt really good,” said Leslie, who last month placed tenth (15:46.0) in the Championship race at the Ocean State (RI) Invitational. “The first mile felt really relaxed. The hill took a little out of me then I thought. It’s cross country. There’s going to be hills. I really love this course. All the loops are really fun. It was okay. I didn’t feel like amazing. We had a big week of training last week so I’m not supposed to feel amazing. I am looking forward to the postseason.”
For Leslie, the first of several big meets that are on the horizon is the Merrimack Valley Conference (MVC) Championships in a couple of weeks. He also has a few lofty goals before the season ends.
“We’re 7-1 right now and hoping to get that MVC title in a couple of weeks. I would love to win MVCs,” Leslie said. “It’s going to be a big battle with Brendan at divisionals. Hopefully, I can come out on top. I also want to place as high as I can place at (the Meet of Champions). They’re all amazing runners (in that race), but I’m not scared of them. I’m going to go in there and race them like I can win.”
In the team competition, Billerica fell just three points short of making it a sweep. With only five varsity runners on the line, Marshfield was able to walk away with the hardware with a close 75-78 decision over the Indians. Junior Graham Heinrich was the top finisher for the Rams, placing fourth overall in 16:54.0. He was followed closely by teammate Matt McCabe, who secured fifth with a time of 16:55.4. Rounding out the scoring was senior Kyle Behan (21st, 18:00.5), sophomore Tucker McNamee (22nd, 18:01.1) and senior Mark Poitras (23rd, 18:01.3).
In the Red Race, Thomas was first MA harrier to cross the line. The Oliver Ames senior was third overall with a time of 16:01.4. Matthew Giardina of Bishop Guertin (NH), ran away from the field from the beginning and won with a time of 15:36.2. Isaac Mahler of William Hall (CT) was second at 15:47.6. Sam Henderson of Cumberland (RI) was fourth at 16:05.4.
Among other top finishers from the Bay State were senior Joseph Ryan (fifth, 16:10.8), and freshmen Patrick Noonan (seventh, 16;14.9) of Lexington and sophomore Sean Finnegan (tenth, 16:34.2) and junior Stephen Leighton of Hopkinton, Reading Memorial senior Graham Goodwin (12th, 16:36.8) and Chelmsford junior Xavier May (13th, 16:39.0).
Katie Sobieraj admitted her legs didn’t feel the greatest on Saturday. Still, it didn’t seem to matter for the Oliver Ames senior, who coasted to the girls’ title. Sobieraj held back with the pack in the early stages of the race before breaking away in the second half en route to winning effort of 18:52.0.
“I wanted to go out conservative,” she said. “I talked to my coach and we knew there was going to be a lot of good girls in here. I wanted to go out conservative. I knew there was a big hill in the second lap. We’ve trained a lot of hills. I knew I could push that hill and stretch the lead out, and I did.”
Alison Pankowicz of Toll Gate (RI) placed second overall, crossing the line a 19:00.5. Bedford teammates Fiona Lee (third, 19:03.5) and Keiseigh O’Neil (fourth, 19:10.2) took the next two spots. Bishop Feehan’s Lauren Augustyn was fifth at 19:11.7.
Led by a sixth-place finish from junior Eleanor Angeles-Whitfield (19:14.6), Marshfield won the team title. The Rams scored 74 points, nearly 20 more than runner-up Bedford, which finished with 93 points. Junior Ava Brunswick (11th, 19:59.5), junior Charlotte Perreault (20th, 20:40.2), junior Meredith Miller (23rd, 20:49.10), and sophomore Nisha Prabhu (30th, 21:10.8) completed the scoring.