On Saturday, September 12, Harwood cross country traveled to Williston for the first invitational of the season. Essex High School hosted its invitational cross country races on the hilly 5k course on the high meadows of the Catamount Family Center. The Catamount trails are as scenic as they are hilly. Runners and spectators were afforded views of Camel's Hump and Mt. Mansfield under warm late summer skies.
The Highlanders harriers did not slow down for the beautiful vistas as both boys' and girls' varsity teams charged to the finish in victory in the Division 2 races.
Harwood girls showed their depth. They were led by team co-captain Jillian Mendes (6). The pack attack of Olivia Nishi (9), Hannah Woodruff (11), Kelsey Bush (12), Laurel Whitney (13) and Jamie Thomas (14) sealed the victory. Harwood's seventh runner, dual sport athlete Sophie Lisaius, placed 30th after surviving a tough field hockey loss to Stowe the previous evening.
Harwood girls last won the Essex Invitational in 2000 when HU girls went on to win the Vermont State Championship. "It was thrilling. Having all of the girls run and finish as a pack was awesome! They encouraged each other. This may be one of the best Harwood girls' teams since 1990," said veteran coach John Kerrigan.
Harwood boys received a pep talk from co-captain Tim Shepard at Friday's practice. He encouraged the boys' varsity to make it four straight Essex Invitational titles. Shepard told his teammates, "We can do it again." Coach Kerrigan was skeptical about his boys' team chances. Harwood lost 12 seniors from the 2008 team. That team won Vermont state titles in 2007 and 2008 and was a close second in 2006. I thought this year would be a rebuilding year, said the Harwood coach.
Harwood was up against a tough Montpelier squad that has put its first team together since the late 1990s. "They have four very gifted runners. Harwood boys squeaked out the victory. We were lucky to come out a little ahead of them. They will give us a challenge all season," he added.
Harwood boys were led by the prophetic Tim Shepard (3). He was closely followed by team co-captains Nick Wisniewski (6) and Nathan Cutler (14). Dylan Thompson (17), Geordy Aitken (21), Zach Munro (23) and Patrick Meany (42) helped to attain the victory.
Harwood cross country will compete next Saturday, September 19, at the Burlington Invitational. The BHS Invitational starts and finishes at North Beach on the windy shores of Lake Champlain. Races begin at 10:30 a.m.