The early forecast for Saturday’s Meet of Champions is showing a more than 50-percent chance of rain for most of day and the temperature in the 50-degree range. Not exactly ideal for racing, but manageable. After all, this is cross country. What runners and teams do we feel will be able to weather the storm this weekend with the quality of competition that’s making the trip to Fort Devens?
Here’s our preview of the Division 2 boys’ and girls’ races.
Time: 2 p.m.
Title Hunt: Danvers, Ludlow, Groton Dunstable, Walpole. Wakefield
Runners To Watch: Adam Balewicz, Nashoba Regional; Isaac Gross, Marblehead; Finn O’Hara, Manchester Essek; Neil Aradyha; Joseph Leroack, Ludlow; Silas Gartner, Falmouth
Outlook: While there are certainly some worthy contenders, the favorite in this race is Balewicz, who defended his Div. 2A crown this past weekend and was third in this race in 2022. The Cornell-bound senior has only run a limited number of races this fall with a focus on peaking at just the right time for championship season (and beyond). That appears to be the case right now. He’s a runner that is not afraid to push the pace and we anticipate that will happen at Fort Devens. Gross in another runner that won’t hesitate to make this race honest. In winning the Div. 2A crown last weekend where he was timed in 15:35.7, the Magicians senior went sub 4:50 for the opening mile. There’s potential this could turn into a race between Balewicz and Gross, who have not been tested in any of their victories this season. Balewicz won at the Twilight Invitational by nearly 40 seconds with his PR of 15:04. He was a 30-plus second victor at the Mid-Wach Championships and was solo in Div. 2B where he won by 21 seconds with a time of 15:33.. Gross was triumphant in his races at the Ocean State Invitational, the Frank Kelley Invitational and Div. 2A by an average of 20 or more seconds. Nonetheless, we certainly can’t forget the competition behind our two front-runners, which include O’Hare, Aradyha, Leroack and Gartner, who all went sub-16 last weekend at Wrentham.
If you use last week’s championships as a base, Danvers would appear to hold the edge in the team competition. The Falcons won the 2B crown by 24 points over Ludlow, averaging 16:29 by their varsity runners. Like Danvers, Ludlow, Wakefield, 2C winner Groton Dunstable and 2A victor Walpole all have a low spread between their one and five guys and are teams we expect to also be contending for the coveted hardware.
Time: 2:45 p.m.
Title Hunt: Whitinsville Christian, Dover Sherborn, Holliston, Medfield, Walpole
Runners To Watch: Marri O’Connell, Marblehead; Emily Flagg, Whitinsville Christian; Caroline Collins, Nashoba Regional; Lauren Raffetto, Canton; Carmen Luisi, Holliston; Maggie Kuchman, Holliston; Georgia Brooks, Groton Dunstable; Ila Zollo, Walpole; Annabelle Lynch, Holliston
Outlook: The favorite here is Luisi, the two-time defending champion. According to head coach Jaime Murphy, her star runner was dealing with a sickness at this past weekend’s Div. 2B championships where she struggled to an uncharacteristic tenth overall after battling with the leaders for most of the race. If she’s 100-percent healthy on Saturday, you have to give her that No. 1 label. She’s been a dominant force the last few years on the trails and had her typical strong season this fall, one that’s included a win at the Frank Mooney Coaches Invitational two weeks ago and a down-to-the-wire victory and sub-17:50 performance at the Twilight Invitational in mid October where she edged two other runners you can’t ignore at Fort Devens, O’Connell and Kuchman. O’Connell appears to be the biggest threat to Luisi. She looks in peak form as evident by her dominant victory in the Div. 2A race where she was more than 40 seconds ahead of her closest rival with a time of 18:11. Kuchman was involved in a competitive race in Div. 2B, placing third overall in 18:30.2. Lynch, another top harrier, was fourth at 18:53.0. Who else do we have? There’s plenty more in a match-up that could have a very crowded lead pack for much of the race and a thriller coming down the stretch. For starters, there’s our 1-2 finishers in 2B, Collins and Raffetto. Collins was second at the MOC last year and looked very comfortable in a close race with Raffetto, where she held off her rival by a little more than two seconds with her time of 18:21.4. We also have Flagg, the Whitinsville Christian freshman, who captured the 2C title and has been a model of consistency in her first year as a varsity runner.
Team-wise, this one could come down to two teams, Whitinsville Christian and Dover Sherborn. The same two squads that battled each other in 2C where the No. 6 runner proved to be the difference. In the cumulative scoring of all the races from this past Saturday, the squads were separated by just a few points for the top two spots. Of course, as we all know, a lot of things can change this weekend. Don’t count out our two-time defending state champions, Holliston. But it won’t be easy for the Panthers. Even with a healthy Luisi, they’ll still need some help from the back end, particularly its’ No. 4 and No. 5 runners.