Sports

Souhegan boys, Milford girls heading in right direction

Thursday, January 17, 2013

By GARY FITZ

Staff Writer

MILFORD – Maybe it’s just a coincidence that two potential state champion track teams were practicing under the same plastic roof last Monday, but it’s hard to believe Milford’s Hampshire Dome doesn’t play a role in the track success of the Milford High School girls and Souhegan boys.

Indoor track practices at many schools mean sprinting through empty hallways while dodging the occasional custodian. High jump practices are often set up in the gym or cafeteria. Practicing the long jump means landing on gymnastic or wrestling mats. Distance runners get outside whenever possible, but it often means trotting along narrow roads lined with snowbanks.

Milford runners got a taste of the past on New Year’s Day. The Dome was closed, and they slipped, slid and endured frigid temperatures in the school’s parking lot.

Yes, the Dome, with its 300-meter track the longest in the state, is a great place to practice. The coaches certainly appreciate the creature comforts.

But the fact is, the Souhegan boys and Milford girls would most likely be vying for state titles this winter even without a great place to practice.

The Souhegan boys are on an unprecedented roll that began last winter with the school’s second Division II indoor title in three years. They went on to win spring track and cross country, putting a number of team members in position to be on four championship teams in a calendar year.

“There’s no question the Dome is a huge resource for our training,” said Souhegan senior middle distance runner Tanner Kent, who will compete for the University of New Hampshire next year while pursuing an engineering degree. “It means we don’t have to suck it up in the cold some days.”

Junior Ben DeForest, a sprinter, high jumper and hurdler for the Sabers, says it’s an invaluable resource.

“Sprinters need to warm up, and you can’t really do that outdoors this time of year,” DeForest said. “And the fact that we can use spikes on the track and to high jump really helps with our training.”

Just four teams, Milford and Souhegan’s boys and girls, shared the track on Monday, but it can get crowded with as many as six schools using it simultaneously.

The Milford girls, who won an indoor title in 2009, have finished second twice in the past three years. For senior standouts Courtney Hawkins and Jessica Krafft, this is the last chance.

“I think we have a great chance this year,” said Hawkins, the senior distance runner who committed to the University of Rhode Island last fall. “We don’t have a big team in terms of numbers, but everyone who came out is really committed.

“And we have some really talented freshmen, which reminds me of the group we had when Jessica and I were freshmen.”

One of those freshmen is high jumper Olivia Rougeau, the younger sister of boys high jump state record holder Dwight Barbiasz, who competed in the event at the Olympic Trials last summer and is a senior at the University of Florida.

Rougeau, just scratching the surface in terms of technique, has already jumped 5 feet, 2 inches, tied for best in the division so far this winter.

“The sky is the limit for her,” Milford coach Mike Wright said. “She’s still just learning the basics.”

Wright is excited about his girls team’s chances but doesn’t see anyone touching the Souhegan boys.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a team that deep in middle- and long-distance runners,” Wright said. “They just keep coming.”

The Sabers should have multiple top seeds at every distance from 300 to 3,000 meters and should dominate the relays, and DeForest is the top seed, right now, in both the hurdles and high jump.

It takes more than a great practice facility and a deep and resourceful coaching staff to win a championship, but alongside talent, it certainly helps.

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