High school cross country is alive and well in the Northwest Corner.
Even in the smaller schools of the Berkshire League, cross country numbers are up.
At Shepaug, 28 boys are out for the team, making the Spartan boys team a pre-season favorite for the BL title, along with Class M’s Northwestern.
The league, a Class S powerhouse in the sport, cranks up the competition early with a pre-season league-wide scrimmage at Thomston’s Black Rock State Park.
“We just throw it out there and say, ‘catch us if you can,’” grins Thomaston coach Mark Olsen, whose teams have often ruled the league and Class S for years at a time.
Here’s a sampling from the scrimmage:
If Shepaug’s boys take the crown, it won’t be by numbers alone. Fifth in the league last year, the Spartans bring back all but one of their top five runners.
The girls, guided by first-year coach Jim Lowe, aren’t quite a match.
“We’re young and small,” says Lowe.
Nonnewaug’s girls, the pre-season counterparts for Shepaug as league favorites, came through with the top two finishers at the scrimmage.
Junior Hanna Gregory and senior Bridget Nicholas arrived first and second, fresh from the Green Mountain Camp for serious runners in Lindonville, Vermont.
Should we take scrimmage results seriously on a hot day?
“It’s a big deal,” said Gregory in a clear warning to other teams.
Five boys teams stand a chance of fighting off Shepaug.
Northwestern brings back all but one runner from last year’s second-place team.
Junior Peter Bakker, first in Thursday’s scrimmage by a wide margin, fills that vacancy very nicely.
“I snapped my ankle and didn’t run last year,” he said.
Lewis Mills won it all last year with an undefeated boys season, but lost four from that team.
Jackson Morrow, the defending individual league champion, is back as a senior to help the Spartans stay in contention.
Thomaston’s boys finished third in the league and fifth in Class S a year ago. The Golden Bears lost two All-League runners (Luke McMahon and Seth Abbott), but Thomaston runners are geared to expect the best from themselves.
“We have a lot of kids who believe they can be All-League,” said Coach Olsen.
Litchfield’s boys were third last year. The top six from that team are back, “better by several minutes,” says Coach Brent Hawkins.
Other boys teams are happy with rising numbers and individual stars.
New Terryville coach Dean Martin hopes for a .500 season for the boys. Junior Connor Levins finished second at the scrimmage.
Housatonic seems to be the only girls team that might compete with Nonnewaug, despite individual stars scatter across the league.
The Mountaineers were 4-5 last year and lost All-Stater Olivia LaFontan, but bring in some strong sophomores to round out this year’s team.
At Lewis Mills, where the team is young, senior Kristin Sullivan stands out, with a third-place finish Thursday.
Thomaston’s girls went undefeated in the league for seven straight years, but might reach the end of the string this year.
“We have a lot of work to do,” says Coach Olson.
Every school has at least one relative star.
That holds true for Torrington in the NVL as well.
Juniors Ashlynn Cook and Shadow Pereira help define what that means on any team.
“They just like to run,” grins Red Raider coach Drake Waldron, as Cook steams in first in a long practice run among the girls. Pereira arrived early among the boys after getting permission from Waldron to run a longer distance than the rest of the team on a hot day (4.5 miles instead of 3).
“I ran in middle school,” says Cook.
“I’ve chosen this to be my career,” grins Pereira.
The boys lost their five best runners after a 10-2 season last year. The girls bring in young talent to bolster a 2-10 record.
Top runners to watch
Shadow Pereira, Torrington, Jr.
Peter Bakker, Northwestern, Jr.
Connor Levins, Terryville, Jr.
Andrew Christensen, Gilbert, Jr.
Clayton Fermender, Shepaug, Sr.
Matt Albino, Nonnewaug, Sr.
Nick Winsser, Housatonic, Sr.
Brenden Leclair, Wamogo, Jr.
Jackson Morrow, Lewis Mills, Sr.
Conor Courtney, Litchfield, Jr.
Trevor Daigle, Thomaston, Sr.
Ashlynn Cook, Torrington, Jr.
Charlotte Eberhardt, Thomaston, Jr.
Sophia Sabella, Litchfield, Sr.
Kristin Sullivan, Lewis Mills, Sr.
Ev Marecki, Wamogo, Sr.
Chelsea Kearns, Housatonic, Jr.
Bridget Nicholas, Nonnewaug, Sr.
Hanna Gregory, Nonnewaug, Jr.
Tia Phon, Shepaug, Soph.
Kayla Danko, Terryville, Soph.
Rachel Aiudi, Gilbert, Soph.
Maddy Malczynski, Northwestern, Sr.