Souhegan girls win cross country Meet of Champions

This a golden era for New Hampshire girls cross country.

The Granite State went 1-2-3 at the New England Cross Country Championships a year ago, and two of those three – champ Jacqueline Gaughan of Exeter and third-place finisher Caroline Fischer of Bishop Guertin – are back this year, ready for battle Saturday in Belfast, Maine.

All of that makes what is cooking on the trails around Souhegan High School all the more amazing.

Fresh off their second straight New Hampshire Meet of Champions title, the Sabers have a legitimate shot at winning the New Englands.

“We’re feeling pretty confident right now. The girls are peaking at the right time,” said Souhegan coach Geoff Wilson. “Last year, the goal was to be in the top 5 at New Englands and be the top New Hampshire team there. We finished second. So, yeah, going into this one, we’ve got a chance.”

Souhegan hits the New Englands on a mega-high, considering the performance on Saturday, in which they nipped Pinkerton Academy, 105-110.

“The Pinkerton girls did not have an off day,” said Wilson. “They ran great. All seven of our girls ran their fastest times of the season. The course is flat, and the conditions were pretty ideal. We needed our top five runners to run really well, and we did that.”

Leading the way was senior Jane Leighton, who continues to soar and is right there in that elite territory where Fischer and Gaughan reside.

“Jane ran really well. She was 17th last year at the Meet of Champions and she improved her time by over a minute (to 17:49.4),” said Wilson. “She finished 4th but ran the 8th fastest time ever there (Derryfield). The first two finishers were under the course record. A number of years Jane’s time would have won it.”

Wilson is blessed with a roster of proven track/distance athletes.

Leighton is joined by Arielle Zlotnick (14th), Marissa Romano (18th) and Elise Lambert (44th) all qualified for and competed at Nationals last spring both in the 4×800 and distance medley relay.

“They’re all pretty talented and that track speed translates well on a flat course like this,” said Wilson.

Sophomore McKenzie Hayden (53rd) rounded out the scorers. Alissa Reitter (69th) and Adrianna Zlotnick (79th) will be looking to push the Sabers Fab 5 this Saturday.

With no Massachusetts athletes competing, Wilson notes there’s a school or two from Vermont that could post the toughest challenge, but he wouldn’t be surprised if the Sabers’ toughest competition looked pretty familiar.

“Coe-Brown, Oyster River and Pinkerton are all pretty close right behind us,” said Wilson. “We’re excited. It should be another great day for New Hampshire cross country.”

Two Spartans at

New Englands

Speaking of runners stepping up their games, you have to admire the runs made by Milford High’s Becca Durham and Lauren Robinson.

Behind this brilliant junior duo, the Spartans qualified for the program’s first-ever trip to the Meet of Champions under coach Mike Wright.

The junior Robinson, finishing ninth, and the senior Dunham, in 15th, took it one step further, qualifying individually for New Englands this week.

“It’s always been the goal for me to get a team to the Meet of Champions. We were hoping or a top 10,” said Wright, whose club just missed, finishing 11th.

That didn’t dampen was his two standouts accomplished.

For Robinson, it’s been a steady climb toward the top all season.

“She’s been running fabulously. She moved from Nashua to Milford and she’s just kind of taking off,” said Wright of the former middle school state champion.

And Durham could be very, very dangerous as she continues down the comeback trail from Bronchitis.

“Today she looked really good in practice,” said Wright. “I’m crossing my fingers it’s back to normal. I mean she was cruising early in the year. She had set three different course records. And now she’s been working hard to get back there.”

The goal for the Spartan pair is simple Saturday.

“I’m expecting them both to make the top 25 which would be All-New England,” said Wright. “That would be great.”

NEW ENGLANDS CHATTER

Sixth overall, Merrimack High School qualified as a team for the New Englands and will be represented by seniors Bailey Carrillo, Grace Corbett, Mia DeMarco and Rachel House; junior Lauren Brennan, sophomore Melanie Hutchinson and freshman Adele Alexander. Carillo, who was 19th, led the way for the Tomahawks at the Meet of Champions. …

Of course, Bishop Guertin’s Fischer, who was third a week ago, will be expected to deliver another top New England’s performance after bursting onto the scene in a huge way last year. …

All eyes will also be watching Nashua South freshman Cali Coffin, who grabbed 5th place overall in the Meet of Champions and is really coming into her own. Nashua North’s Arianna Braccio, 21st overall, will be looking for a big day.

COMMENTS