2023 Thetford Invitational Preview

2023 VTHSXC Thetford Invitational Preview

Welcome to the VTHSXC Thetford Invitational race preview. One of the premier races in VT, and taking place Welcome to the VTHSXC Thetford Invitational race preview. One of the premier races in VT, and taking place on the State Meet course, this meet gives everyone an idea of where they stand head to head on the most important course in the state. For the first time in many years all of the top 10 ranked teams will be at Thetford. This will truly provide us an opportunity to see where teams stand with one month to go before the state meet.

For those who are not familiar with the Thetford Invitational the format is a little bit different. There are 5 seed races that go from slowest to fastest. Teams do not need to declare 7 varsity runners because all five races will be merged and the top 7 finishers per team, regardless of race, will be scored as the teams top 7. There is no limit to how many runners per team are entered into each race as long as they are within the time limit for each race.

Now let's get to the fun part! How do we see these races possibly playing out with the favorites individually and team wise and what to look out for this Saturday.

Boys Preview:

The Wood Trail Invitational this coming Saturday is one of the great Green Mountain State sporting traditions. The leaves are in fine form and almost every high school team and runner in the state is on hand to battle over the brutal but beautiful 5k course on the campus of Thetford Academy. The race serves as a preview of the State Championship Meet in a month's time but also offers a unique format. At Woods Trail all runners are grouped into 5 heats (five each for boys and girls) based on relative ability. This means that every runner is in a race with 100-200 competitors with similar projected finishing times. In other words both potential state champs and complete novices are in a race where they can compete for a high finish.

How will the race play out? Look for the St. Jay pack to take the race out hard and challenge every other team to hold on. While a few individuals have looked capable of breaking up the St.Jay cavalry so far this season no Vermont team has been able give the Hilltoppers a run for their money through five scoring runners. St. Jay has a star studded top three but runs at least 6 or 7 deep making them very hard to beat.  Look for #3 CVU, who ran very well last Saturday at the Black Bear Invitational, to put some pressure on as they look to close the gap for the D1 crown. #2 U32’s Senior duo of Cyrus Hansen and Taggert Schrader should be among the boys in white and green but after that the Raiders are young and unproven. #5 Montpelier could be the surprise team with a very strong and experienced top five who are super motivated and word has it, have been putting in some impressive training. #4 Essex and #6 BFA will also have multiple runners in the lead pack at the halfway point but as always it will be the hills in the final mile that will settle the outcome.

The weather could be a wild card on Saturday. If the predicted rain, and mud, materialize the race is likely to be a slog that favors the slow twitch and mentally strong runners as opposed to the speed merchants. While “running is running” Cross Country is a different discipline than track. On the oval the fastest generally prevail. In Cross, mental and physical strength (aerobic and muscular) tend to come out on top. 

While the boys from the NEK are the clear favorites on the team side, their top three runners Andrew Thorton-Sherman, Emmett Johnson and Carson Eames have to be among the favorites to win the individual title. To do so they will have to go through U32’s Cyrus Hansen,BFA’s Porter Hurteau and CVU’s Dan Knight,Owen Deale and others who have all shown excellent form in the early season races. 

Girls Preview:

A week after CVU loses its first meet of the season, while running without their top 2 runners, they venture to Thetford to show the competition what they are like at full strength once again. For the first time in a while all of the VT top 10 girls teams will be competing at Thetford. This will give everyone a great opportunity to see where people stand head to head with one month to go until the State Championship Meet. 

Any race at Thetford is almost always determined by who can deal with the hills and the lightning fast downhills that follow. To run Thetford well, runners must run intelligently because mistakes on this course can come back to really hurt runners in the second half of the race. The first kilometer takes you mostly downhill to the lowest point of the course. The next kilometer winds runners uphill back to the start area. These hills leading up to Morty’s Monster make this iconic climb even more difficult after climbing for almost 2 kilometers before they actually reach Morty’s. After Morty’s it is a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs. Any mistakes before this point get multiplied because of the constantly varying terrain until the runners fly down their last downhill and into the screaming fans at the finish line.

In the state of Vermont no team has been able to compete with the CVU girls and this weekend that may remain the case. CVU should be led by their top two duo of Alice Kredell and Estella Laird. One new challenger is New Milford the #5 ranked team in Connecticut. New Milford just finished 4th at the Bowdoin Park Classic which is the site of the Nike Cross Regionals in NY. That experience may help prepare them for the difficulty of the Thetford course because Bowdoin Park is a beast in its own right. The one team in VT that may be able to close the gap on CVU is U-32. It will be interesting to see if they have been able to inch closer to the Redhawks. U-32 is led by perennial low stick Ginger Long. The question will be can U-32 get their 2-5 runners into the mix with CVU. At Manchester CVU finished all 7 runners before the 2nd U-32 runner had finished so part of the story this weekend is will the CVU domination continue.

Some of the best battles could take place behind CVU. The annual U-32 and Harwood D2 girls battle is always one to watch. Harwood normally goes to ME for the Festival of Champions but that was last weekend so they are attending Thetford for the first time in a while. U-32 seems to have the upper hand right now but this head to head battle will provide us with more insight on how the D2 state race may play out in a month. South Burlington and Essex have been separated by single digits most of this season so we will see if anything changes on the hills of Thetford. It seems like a coin flip on any given day which team will be on top between these two. This battle could come down whether the Essex tight pack from 1-5 can offset SB having a bigger 1-5 spread but a higher placing #1 runner in Paige Poirer. In a field of this size it will be fun to see which team gains the advantage.

The next race within a race will most likely be between Mount Mansfield, St Johnsbury and Burlington. Burlington will have the front runners of these three and in a race of this size it may determine the team outcome because their top 2, Gillian Fairfax and Mimi Dion, will be very high in the finishing order IF they are all racing. BHS has multiple multi-sport athletes competing in cross country and if they have games this Saturday they may not be able to race. MMU just squeaked out a close race at St J but that was only a tri meet and this is much bigger than that! This is another battle that may be decided by the size of the race and who can keep the pack tighter together. A couple of  individuals to keep an eye on will be Anita Miller from White River Valley School and Kaitlyn Lumbra of BFA St Albans.

It should be a great day of racing this weekend and hopefully the forecast is not correct because they are saying rain and the possibility of heavy rain during the day. That will make a difficult course even that much more difficult! It takes the strongest runners to succeed at Thetford and it will be no different this year rain or shine. All that is left is to see who has a leg up on the competition with a month to go before the state meet.