Wind: 0 mph
On Saturday, October 29, on the hilly trails of Thetford State Park, Harwood Highlander boys’ and girls’ cross country runners put an amazing finishing touch on their seasons. Both teams captured the Vermont Division II state cross country titles.
The girls defended their title from 2010 and captured their third straight title by dominating the field with a 48-point victory—arguably, the largest victory ever by a defending team. The young Harwood boys’ team won in a barn-burner finish, squeaking out a two-point victory over the senior-laden squad from Woodstock.
“I am so happy,” remarked Harwood senior co-captain Laurel Whitney. Whitney finished third as a junior but has struggled for the past year with injuries created by a growth spurt. On Saturday, she carried her lanky frame to a top 10 finish helping her teammates to a dominating finish. Harwood girls were led by junior Jaime Thomas who was crowned Vermont State Division II champion for the second year in a row. Thomas accomplished the victory by running with the same style she has used all season: staying with the leaders for the first half of the race and dropping them during the second part. “I left them all on the hills,” said the scrappy junior.
First-year Harwood cross country runner Ellie Ramsey had the best race of the season finishing an impressive third. The Duxbury native, who lives at the base of Camel’s Hump, was isolated from her home for some time after Hurricane Irene. She was as comfortable as at home on the hills of Thetford on Saturday. Both Thomas and Ramsey qualified as individuals for the New England Cross Country Championships on November 12. Alice Woodruff (9), Kate Stevens (16), co-captain Hannah Woodruff (17) and Olivia Nishi (30) solidified the Harwood effort in the 100-plus runner field.
Harwood boys had an absolutely stunning victory. The youthful squad of seven runners composed of two sophomores, three freshman and two seniors shocked the teams from Middlebury and Woodstock. “Going into the meet, I truly believed we were a year away. I thought we could win the state title but it would be in 2012. They really surprised me,” said coach John Kerrigan. The margin of victory (two points) was one of the closest in Vermont state history.
“It came down to Geordy Aitken passing Jeff Tucker of Woodstock at the finish line,” said the excited veteran coach. Senior Geordy Aitken was named in honor of former Vermont Governor George Aitken. The senior co-captain has been a team leader on and off the trails. “Geordy’s pre-meet speech gave me inspiration to carry me to my best race ever,” said freshman Nathanael Kuzio who finished an impressive 13th.
Harwood identical twins Geoffrey and Nathaniel Kazlow finished 10th and 11th, respectively. “They have been stalwarts for us all year and will be our leaders next year. Our twins did not beat their twins today (referring to the identical senior Guertin twins from Middlebury) but we came in darn close,” commented Kerrigan.
Freshman Sam Nishi helped support the two-point edge by racing to a personal record time on the hilly Thetford trails. “No one ever gets a personal record at Thetford,” said Kerrigan. Nishi, who was Harwood’s fifth runner, finished just behind the fourth runner from Woodstock. Senior co-captain Cameron Hancock (33) and freshman Jacob Palmerio (36) helped solidify the Highlander victory.
“It was an awesome day for Harwood cross country. Some of these runners were severely affected by Irene. Many of them were instrumental in helping in the flood recovery in Waterbury and The Valley. Some of them started out the season without running shoes and places to live. How does it go? “In order to enjoy the rainbow you have to put up with the rain? Today all their efforts in practice and volunteering to help others allowed them to enjoy the glow of the rainbow,” said Kerrigan. “Every cloud does have a silver lining.”
Both Harwood teams have qualified for the New England Cross Country Championships to be held on November 12 in Ponaganset, Rhode Island.