Conquering Thetford Academy’s grueling cross country course, home of the Vermont high school state championships, is as much mental as it is physical, says CVU coach Scott Bliss.
“You have to run the course with your head, that’s what makes it challenging for people,” said Bliss of the well-known and hilly five-kilometer course. “If you don’t pay attention, you can get in trouble in a hurry.
“If you make a mistake at Thetford, you are probably going to pay for it.”
About 1,000 runners will try to avoid such pratfalls at Saturday’s state meet that will determine individual and team champions in three divisions.
While the Champlain Valley girls are in position for their ninth crown in 10 years, the South Burlington boys might make program history. The Rebels, who won the season-kickoff Essex Invitational and last week’s NVAC Metro league championship, are hoping to capture their first state crown.
“We are really excited to show up and race and see what happens,” SBHS coach Geoff Bennett said. “We took one Saturday at a time. Even this week, we’re doing everything we can to build the energy and excitement. We’ve been looking forward to this day since (August).”
Malcolm Plunkett, last year’s individual champion, leads a Rebel squad that includes Tommy Royer, Patrick Hickey, Sean MacDonald and William Gregoire. The Rebels’ five each finished in the top 10 at NVACs, including a 1-2-3 sweep from Plunkett, Royer and Hickey.
Essex, Mount Anthony and Champlain Valley are viable threats to spoil South Burlington’s potential title breakthrough. Mount Anthony’s Marc Brandmeyer is also a big threat in the individual race against Plunkett, who is nursing a back injury he suffered earlier this season.
“If they run the way they’ve run all year, pretty much everyone else is running for second,” said Bliss of SBHS.
With the last two New England crowns to their credit, the CVU girls have high expectations beyond Saturday. But to Bliss, the state meet is the top priority.
“States to me is the first thing, it’s the most important,” Bliss said. “The other ones take some luck, I believe. They are really hard to win. The first goal is states and we’ll go from there.”
Taylor Spillane and Autumn Eastman are CVU’s top two runners and might finish 1-2 in the individual race. Julienne Devita, Abby Keim, Emma Puture, Carly Neeld and Aleksey Jordick make up the rest of CVU’s lineup.
Essex, St. Johnsbury, MMU and South Burlington are in the mix for second.
The Harwood program, under the guidance of longtime coach John Kerrigan, who turned 60 this week, will seek a second straight D-II sweep.
Geoffrey Kazlow, Nathanael Kuzio, Sam Nishi, Nathaniel Kazlow and Caleb Kessler are part of a Harwood boys squad that should also be near the top of the combined team scoring, which determines New England qualification.
Jaime Thomas, the two-time individual champion, leads the Harwood girls, who will have difficulty repeating against a favored Woodstock squad that beat them at BHS.
Montpelier’s Daniel Grosvenor is the odds-on favorite to win the boys individual crown, while teammate Laura Mears is a contender in a girls field that includes Thomas and Woodstock’s Carmen Bango.
Richford’s Elle Purrier, the state’s top runner, aims for a third straight crown. Purrier cruised to the small-schools win at the NVAC Metro meet.
Zach Chatot, a junior, is in search of a repeat title.
In the team races, Chatot and Thetford are aiming for a fourth boys crown in five years. The Panthers will be challenged by Bellows Falls and Rice.
The Randolph girls are favored to capture their fourth consecutive crown, against a field that includes BFA-Fairfax and Rice.