Wind: 0 mph
Kerrigan's Army (Harwood boys' cross country) stormed into the Lamoille Valley last Friday, October 26, primed for the Battle of Cricket Hill (Northern Vermont -- Mountain Division Championship). From earlier reconnaissance runs they knew the terrain and their major foe.
The course at Lamoille High School was rough footing and hilly but the distance had been recently shortened to an accurately measured 5k. Harwood's major competition would be Division 1 power, St. Johnsbury Academy.
St. J has the two best individual runners in the state in Ken Bunnell and Kyle Powers. But as they were to learn, cross country is a team sport where the first five runners from each school do the scoring.
"It is a lot like poker. You have to be holding five good cards," said coach Kerrigan. Not only are teams' first five runners important but also runners six and seven can displace runners to win a championship.
"That is exactly what happened today," said Kerrigan.
Harwood's first four runners across the line -- Eamon Welter (4), Tim Shepard (5), Caleb Kernan (6) and Sam McCausland (13) -- gave Harwood a total of 26. In a sport where the lowest score wins, it looked like certain victory for St. J (19 -- after the first four). Harwood's fate would be determined by Harwood's number five, six and seven runners' finishes in respect to the fifth St. J runner.
Harwood's fifth runner, Nick Wisniewski, crossed the line in 12th, sixth runner Colton Crowley (17) was in, and the fifth St. J runner was not yet in sight.
"Colton and Wiz had good efforts but it did not look like it was enough to beat St. J. Then I saw Mike!" Kerrigan said.
Harwood's seventh man Mike Shepard was cresting the last hill with St. J's fifth runner in his sights. From the screaming fans, Mike knew that the teams' fate was in his hands. By finishing ahead of Ji Lee of St. J, Harwood would win; if he finished behind him Harwood would have to settle for runners up. With a furious sprint to the finish Mike Shepard blew past the slightly built Lee to seal the victory for Harwood.
"It was a team effort today," stated Kerrigan.
"Harwood has not won the NVAC title since 1999. It was a great victory over a great team," he added.
Harwood JV dominated their race. Zach Pfister (1), Zach Russo (2) and Ken Bourneouf (3) swept the top spots. They were supported by Josh Kernan (5), Nathan Cutler (6), Drew Diemar (7), Sam Ferenc (9), Dylan Peterson (10) and Jack Stauss (11).
"They were awesome -- all I saw was a flurry of black and gold. They were crossing the line in packs. It was impossible for me to determine individuals and I really did not care. All I knew was that it was Harwood," their coach said.
Harwood girls finished a solid fourth in the League race. Annie Mendes finished seventh, Chelsea Robinson (16) in a personal best time, Heather Cutler (22), Elena Bilodeau (27) and Zari Sadri (28) rounded out the top five for Harwood.
Harwood's next race is the State Championship. The Vermont State Champion will be determined by the team's performance on a tough Thetford Course with its challenging hill nicknamed Morty's Monster in honor of Thetford Trail designer John Morton. Morty has also designed the Nordic trails used for the Winter Olympics at Soldier Hollow.
"Hopefully our momentum for this race will carry us into the states. Come out and support us, you won't be disappointed. Thetford is a beautiful race venue and a scenic drive from Waterbury or The Valley," Kerrigan added.