CUMBERLAND — After spending the month of September competing against their Northern Division opponents, the Cumberland High boys’ and girls’ cross country teams headed north on Route 95 on Friday morning to test their mettle against some out-of-state competition.
But while the girls’ team drove straight to Maine to compete in the Maine XC Festival of Champions in Belfast, head boys’ coach Kerrie Carpenter and her top seven runners pulled into Boston’s Logan Airport to board a flight to North Carolina for the Great American XC Festival’s “Race of Champions” at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, N.C.
And while the competition both teams faced were tough, the Clippers got tougher, and when the dust settled, they came home with top-four finishes and a magnificent experience that should benefit them on the road to next month’s state championship meet.
Competing against 22 schools up and down the East Coast, including intrastate rivals La Salle Academy and Bishop Hendricken, the boys’ team finished fourth with 204 points. The champion with 100 was Mount Tabor High in Winston-Salem, N.C., and Maryland’s Severna Park High (105) and Tennessee’s Hardin Valley Academy (166) were the next two teams in the standings.
The top-four finish was definitely a pleasant surprise for the Clippers, who were making their debut at this marquee event, and according to Carpenter, “we just wanted to see what we could doon such a prestigious stage. I know a lot of those teams are nationally-ranked, so (placing fourth) was not anywhere on my goal sheet. But by focusing on just us, when those results came through, I was shocked.”
As for the Rams and the Hawks? La Salle, which received an 11th-place finish of 15:27.3 from Cumberland’s Adam Thibodeau and 21st place of 15:47.3 from Cumberland’s Jack Casey, placed seventh with 238 points, and Hendricken was eighth with 241.
Cumberland’s top finishers were senior Henry Dennen, who claimed 15th place in 15:37.1, and junior Cole McCue, who finished 24th in 15:49.7, and rounding out the scorers were senior John Walker (59th, 16:19.6), junior Sam Kucal (74th, 16:28.3), and senior Ethan Carpenter (81st, 16:36.4). Dennen, McCue, Walker, Kucal, and senior Matt Picchioni, who placed 121st in 17:06.7, clocked PRs with their fast times.
Another La Salle runner from Cumberland who cracked the top 80 was Phil Simas, who placed 75th in 16:29.6.
The girls’ squad, meanwhile, made its 19th straight trip to the Festival of Champions and surely made their presence felt among the 15 teams from the northeast and Canada. The Clippers scored 148 points to place third in the standings, trailing only Maine’s Bonny Eagle High (91) and Vermont’s Harwood Union High (92).
“We ran really, really well,” said first-year girls’ head coach Marty Crowley. “It’s high-level competition, a big-meet atmosphere, and a great litmus test to see where you’re at heading into the states, and our kids ran exceptional on top of it.”
The race featured three heats, a freshman, an unseeded, and a seeded, and Cumberland took top honors in the freshman and unseeded races.
The Clippers captured the eight-team freshman race with 63 points, outdistancing the runner-up squad, Falmouth, Mass., by eight, and the winner of that race was freshman phenom Kiley DeFusco, who posted a time of 19:25.28 that topped a field of 124 runners and dusted the second-place runner by 34.29 seconds. Also placing in the top 10 were Rose Tuomisto, who took sixth in 20:39.53, and Emily Bourke, who was seventh in 20:44.39.
In the unseeded race, which saw 19 teams in the standings, three runners finished among the top 10, as junior Grace Holmander took seventh place out of 218 runners in a time of 23:31.22, sophomore Emily Finder placed ninth in 23:40.20, and her classmate, Leila Chowning, was 10th in 23:41.14.
With the times from the freshman and unseeded races counting toward the seeded race, DeFusco found herself in 11th place out of 523 runners, and finishing within 17 seconds of each other were the Clippers’ next four finishers: junior Grace Carr, who placed 30th in 20:27.44, sophomore Summer Sartini, was was 36th in 20:32.85, Tuomisto (38th), and Bourke (41st). Junior Annie Henderson also cracked the top 50 by placing 48th in 20:56.54.
Both the boys’ and girls’ teams, who both wrapped up their undefeated Northern Division dual-meet schedules on Tuesday afternoon at the Monastery by easily defeating North Providence, Ponaganset, and Central Falls, will again hit the road this weekend for another invitational meet, but they won’t have to venture as far as they did last week.
The boys’ team will only have to cross one state line to compete at the Wickham Park Invitational in Manchester, Conn., and the girls’ squad will do likewise, as they head to the Cape to take part in the Bob McIntyre Twilight XC Invitational at the Barnstable Fairgrounds in Falmouth, Mass.