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 1 boys’ and girls’ races.
Time: 12:30 p.m.
Title Hunt: Brookline, Newton South Westford Academy, Algonquin Regional, Wellesley, Lexington, Cambridge Rindge & Latin, Boston College High
Runners To Watch: Paul Bergeron, Westford Academy; Chris Larnard, Boston College High; Ilan Sherman-Kadish, Newton South, Jack Graffeo, Westford Academy; John. Wilson, Boston College High; Joseph Ryan, Lexington: Paulino Guevara, Cambridge Rindge & Latin; Patrick Noonan, Lexington; Stephen Goehringer, Wellesley
Outlook: The favorite here Bergeron, the defending champion. The Westford Academy senior, who will more than likely secure his second trip to the Foot Locker Nationals just seven days later at the FL NE Regionals at Franklin Park, is coming off a victory at the Division 1A. Bergeron and Graffeo could produce a 1-2 finish, much like the two teammates did at the divisional states at the Gardner Municipal Golf Course. At the meet, Bergeron was timed in 15:38.2, while Graffeo crossed the line in 15:49.78. Bergeron admitted afterwards to Bay State Running that it wasn’t an all-out effort on the difficult 5K terrain as he was a saving his energy for the next two weekends. We’re assuming the same with Graffeo who, like his fellow classmate, has gone sub-15 before. He won the Large School race at Twilight Invitational a month ago in 14:57. Bergeron has a PR of 14:43 from last year’s duel with Framingham’s Sam Burgess, where he was second. We expect both runners to be at their best against the very-strong field they’ll be facing at Fort Devens. At last year’s meet, the Stanford-bound Bergeron clocked a winning time of 15:02.58. We could have a time in that range on Saturday. The big question is can the Westford Academy duo be broken up this weekend? With the level of talent that’s expected to answer the gun on Saturday, there’s no doubt it can happen. Larnard appears to be in peak shape and has the best chance of spoiling the party up front for the Ghosts. The BC High senior captured the 1A race in 15:39.88, nearly matching his PR of 15:39.37 from his victory at the Catholic Conference Championships on an equally-tough Franklin Park course. We also can’t forget what he did at the Manhattan College Invitational in New York where he went 12:33 for 2.5 miles in mid October. All these performances were done within the last month. You could say he’s ready. There’s also Sherman-Kadish, who led the Lions to the team title in IA with his runner-up finish and PR of 15:45.68.
In the team competition there’s a few teams that could be vying for the championship banner. Newton South certainly showed its strength in winning their crown where a split of just over a minute separated their top five. We can’t forget Brookline, a deceiving fifth-place finisher in that meet. We learned through sources that the Warriors were not concentrating on the team title in that competition, and focusing all their efforts on this Saturday and the Nike Northeast Regionals the following weekend where they’re ranked as one of the top teams in the region. After their 1-2 finish, Bergeron promised that his team was also all about this weekend and had a goal of taking home the hardware. The Ghosts were second to Wellesley in Div. 1B. The remaining teams we mentioned above – Algonquin, Lexington and Cambridge Rindge & Latin – are also legit top-3, top-5 teams.
Time: 1:15 p.m.
Title Hunt: Oliver Ames, Arlington Wellesley, Weymouth, Cambridge Rindge & Latin, Acton Boxborough
Runners To Watch: Aoife Shovlin, Cambridge Rindge & Latin; Megan Moran, Westfield; Katie Sobieraj, Oliver Ames; Abigail Hennessey, Westford Academy; Gracie Richard, Weymouth; Paige McInerney, Acton-Boxborough; Noami Witt, Wachusett ; Lucia Werner, Brookline
Outlook: The Falcons’ Shovlin will be looking to make it two straight on Saturday after winning the 2022 crown as a sophomore. She appears ready to make that happen. The CBL standout captured the Div. 1A title at Gardner in a season best of 18:16.17, just about 20 seconds faster than the next quickest runner at this past weekend’s meet. And she did it solo, winning her race by more than 30 seconds! At last year’s MOC, Shovlin clocked 18:12.97 after placing fifth against an absolutely-loaded field a week earlier in Div. 1A where she had her PR of 17:58.84 at Wrentham. Is sub-18 possible this weekend for Shovlin at Fort Devens? It all depends on the conditions, which could slow things down a bit with rain in the forecast. But we do feel she’s capable based on what she done. We also feel she could have some company along the way. Among the top runners that will toe the line, Moran and Sobieraj seems to have the best chance at dethroning their rival. The two harriers went 1-2 in Div. 1C with Moran clocking 18:36.21 and Sobieraj finishing in 18:40.67. Moran, who was 43rd overall at last year’s meet, is having a splendid year where she’s broke 19 minutes at least four times already this season, including her all-time best of 18:09.80 from her win at the Frank Mooney Coaches Invitational two weeks ago. Sobieraj has also been consistent the last few months and will have extra motivation to excel with her team one of the contenders for the team title. She also has gone sub-19 four times this season.
It looks as though the two strongest teams to snare the crown this weekend are Oliver Ames and Arlington, the respective Div. 1C and Div. 1B champions. Both were impressive last weekend, averaging 19:38 and 19:45 by their varsity runners at Gardner. As we’ve often stated, pack running wins these meets and the two squads are all about that. Arlington had just a 43-second gap between it one and five and Oliver Ames was at 1:22. But don’t count out teams like Wellesley, Weymouth and Cambridge Rindge & Latin, who will also bring a solid crew to Fort Devens. This should be a close one, very close.