Wind: 6 mph
Harwood Union's legendary cross country teams swept the state titles once again with both teams qualifying for the New England championships and runner Tim Shepard earning the top finish in the state.
Harwood Union cross country coach John Kerrigan did a victory lap in celebration of his teams' double victory at the Vermont State Championships held on Saturday, October 31, on the wooded trails of Thetford Academy.
"They were awesome today. They are a great group of student athletes." It was a storybook ending to a stellar season for the Highlanders. It was the 12th and 13th state titles for Harwood cross country teams.
"I think it was fitting that that Harwood's 13th Vermont state title was earned on Halloween day," said the longtime coach.
Harwood girls defeated defending state champion Burr and Burton by over 30 points. It was the fourth Vermont cross country state title for Harwood girls and their first since 2000. Harwood girls were led by freshman Jamie Thomas.
"I knew she was going to have a breakout race very soon," said longtime Harwood Coach John Kerrigan. Thomas not only led her team to the state title but also qualified individually for the New England cross country championships. She is only the fourth girl from Harwood to qualify for this prestigious race as a freshman.
Team captain Jill Mendes also ran very well by placing fifth. Mendes has had a great career as a Harwood cross country runner; her leadership will be missed next year, said Kerrigan. Mendes was closely followed by Laurel Whitney (7), Olivia Nishi (11), Kelsey Bush (14), Kate Stevens (17) and Hannah Woodruff (20). "All of the girls ran their hearts out today," said Kerrigan.
After news of the girls' victory was celebrated by Harwood students and parents, all eyes turned to the boys. All thought it would be a close battle between Harwood and Montpelier boys for the state Division 2 title. Predictions about a close race appeared correct after the first four runners crossed the finish line, two from Harwood and two from Montpelier.
"At the mile mark of the race, I was very worried. Four Montpelier runners were in front of our second," said Kerrigan. Harwood's third through sixth runners slowly moved up in the next mile and a half.
"At the top of Morty's (Morty's Monster Hill -- named for trail designer John Morton) the Harwood boys were dead even with the Solons. In the last half mile, our third, fourth, fifth and sixth runners were able to overtake the Montpelier fourth runner. When I saw Meany (Harwood junior Patrick Meany) overtake Liam (Liam McSweeny of Montpelier) I knew the race was won," said Kerrigan.
Tim Shepard finished off a great career by running to a 15-second victory over the talented field of runners.
"Tim really wanted it today. This has been his goal all season," said Kerrigan. Fellow Harwood senior Nick Wisniewski almost made it a one-two finish. Nick finished a mere three seconds behind runner up Sam Brigham. "Nick has been solid for us since his freshman year. Tim and Nick made Harwood history today. They are the only Harwood athletes to be on a Harwood team that has won three straight titles." Tim and Nick joined Jamie Thomas as individual qualifiers for the New England's. It was the ninth Vermont state title earned by Harwood cross country runners and the seventh in the last 12 years.
Harwood placed Geordy Aitken 18th, Dylan Thompson 19th, Nathan Cutler 21st, Patrick Meany 34th and Zak Munro 41st to seal the victory. "Aitken also had a break-out race today. The summer training has finally paid off for him," said the coach.
Harwood boys and girls both finished fifth overall when counting all divisions. This qualified both teams for the New England cross country championships to be held in Manchester, Connecticut, on November 14.
Having both boys and girls teams qualify for New Englands last occurred in 2000. "We will be the school with the smallest population competing at the New Englands. It will be interesting to see how we can do against the big dogs from the cities in southern New England," said Kerrigan.