In the late stages of Saturday’s Foot Locker Northeast Regionals, Paul Bergeron still felt had he had enough left to contend for the win. Battling with race leaders Ryan Pajak and Drew Griffith of Pennsylvania for most of the five-kilometer race. the Westford Academy senior tried to shift into another gear.
“I just stayed there with (Ryan) and Drew and with 600 meters to go, maybe 400 meters, they definitely made a push. I still thought i had a lot left and thought I could contend for the win,” he said. “When (Pajak) made his move, it just wasn’t there. But I don’t think that means that it won’t be there December 9.”
For Bergeron, and a few other elite runners like Pajak and Griffith, Dec. 9 has been marked on their calendars since the start of the season, some perhaps a little earlier. That’s the date of the Foot Locker Nationals in San Diego, a date they’re hoping will equate to a potential victory or top finish at Balboa Park.
Bergeron did his best to contend for individual honors at the regional meet, placing a solid third overall with a time of 15 minutes, 2 seconds Pajak claimed the top prize by breaking the tape in a course record of 14:51, Griffith took second at 14:54.
While he fell short of his goal of winning this weekend’s race, the consolation prize for his gutsy effort wasn’t too bad. For the second straight year, the Stanford commit will toe the line with 40 of the best runners in the country at the national meet. Bergeron will be joined in San Diego by four other runners from the Bay State who secured at top-10 qualifying spot. Among them are teammate Jack Graffeo, Philips Academy’s Tamrat Gavenas, Belmont’s Ellie Shea and Cambridge Rindge & Latin’s Aoife Shovlin.
“It feels good to qualify again,” said Bergeron, who was 15th overall at last year’s Nationals. “Obviously, it was a little bittersweet. I would have liked to race better. Pajak and Griffith are national-level athletes that can also contend for a national title. I haven’t been feeling great all week with a little bit of a sickness and I kind of messed up my ankle at the beginning of the week. But i think everything is going to clear up perfectly for Nats.”
“I’m excited,” he added. “The time today was pretty solid. It shows I’m fit, even feeling a little sick. It’s a great feeling. It takes the weight over my shoulders. Now I got to get ready for nationals.”
Like Bergeron, Gavenas will also be making a return trip out west by placing fourth overall in 15:07. He was ninth at last year’s regionals as a sophomore.
Gavenas never lost sight of the leaders on Saturday and battled with the lead pack through an opening mile around 4:40.
“It was a tough first mile for me,” he admitted. “I stayed warm before racing. Once we hit the 2K, I was starting to feel a little cold and my legs started to tense up. I just needed to stick with it…I made it through, which was real good.”
Gavenas is looking to improve on last year’s placement at the Nationals where he was respectable 31st overall.
“I’m hoping for top 20,” he said.
Graffeo will be making his first trip to the national after finishing eighth overall with a time of 15:11
“It’s a wonderful feeling. I have been thinking about this race since last year’s race,” said the WA junior, who was 20th at the CHAMPS Northeast Regionals in 2022. “I wanted to come back. I wanted to qualify. It’s been kind of like a dream for me. To come here and execute how I wanted to, it’s great.
Graffeo feels that he and Bergeron have benefitted from having each other to train with on a daily basis and with the same goal of making it to the Nationals.
“We’ve been thinking about it a lot, and preparing,” he said. “The main part was being consistent. Without that, we wouldn’t have been where we are. If we didn’t have each other to motivate each other everyday and didn’t have the consistency in our training, we wouldn’t have had the results today.”
In somewhat of an upset in the girls’ race, New York’s Zariel Macchia pulled away from Shea in the closing stages en route to a winning time of 17:13, a comfortable eight seconds ahead of the defending champion, who was competing in her first race of the season. Machhia, Shea and eventual third-place finisher, Ruth White of Maine (17:30) were still close together with about 600 meters remaining.
“In the wilderness, we were kind of going back-and-forth, all three of us,”said Macchia, who was third in the 3K behind a triumphant Shea at the Pan Am U20 Championships this summer and a recent winner at the NY Federation Championships. “When we came onto the field, I pulled away a little bit. At that point, I was pretty confident I would be able to win.”
Shovlin was able to take the final spot for the Nationasl by placing tenth overall with a time 18:16. The CB&L junior, who won her second straight Div. 1 title at the Meet of Champions last week, knew she had a chance to qualify for San Diego by the midway point of the race.
“In the middle, I was in about 13th place,” she said. “I kind of had it in the back of my head that I needed to move up or else I kind of would have gotten so close than not. I kind of just tried to keep in my mind that I got to get to nationals. In the woods loop, I was able to get into 11th place, I think. In the final 100 (meters), there was this girl that fell and I passed her and got tenth.”