Vermont State Championship Preview
For teams vying for a State Championship the entire season comes down to one day. There are many factors that come into play on States day. Some are physical. Some are mental. It is which teams can put it all together on that one day because it doesn’t matter who was ranked #1 most of the year. It doesn’t matter who won Essex Invitational or Districts. It only matters on that one day. BUT the entire season is preparation for this one day and we get to see who prepared their teams the best tomorrow at Thetford Academy!
The girls will be racing first this Saturday and the order of races will be D3, D2 and D1. For those who are not aware of how this is determined the girls and the boys rotate who goes first each year. The divisions also rotate each year so that it is random and no division has an unfair advantage with the condition of the course etc. This helps to keep an even playing field for determining the New England qualifying teams and individuals. If the weather is bad it shouldn’t affect the same division each year and make their race slower or faster based on course conditions.
With a lack of knowledge about a number of the lower divisions this is mostly going to focus on what should be the best 2 races of the day...the D1 boys and girls races. The lower division races almost all have pretty clear favorites in each of the four races. U-32 boys and Harwood girls are the clear favorites in the D2 races and Craftsbury boys and Thetford Academy girls should be considered strong favorites in the D3 races this weekend. With that out of the way let’s get into the two D1 races!
Girls D1 Showdown!
There are a number of ways to look at the girls D1 race and try to predict who has a chance to win this year's State Championship. If you cheat and use the meet predictor on athletic.net it looks like a clear run away win for Burlington. The last 2 races have proven that is not the case. Burlington got hit with illness about 3-4 weeks ago and haven’t really run a full squad since then. They look to be healthy and have their regular 7 this Saturday. They are clearly one of the favorites, if not still the favorite, in this race. In 2017 they came as close as anyone has in quite some time to upset the CVU streak of 12 in a row. They finished a very close 3 points behind CVU and they have shown an ability to peak at the correct time under the coaching of Ryan Robitaille.
Burlington #1 runner Rebecca Cunningham almost pulled off a big upset last year in the States race and was only run down by Alicia Veronneau of CVU in the final finish stretch after an amazing comeback in the final 400 meters. Burlington has a strong group of runners if they are at their best and have shown a solid ability to run the very difficult course at Thetford. They were the top VT team at the Thetford Invitational this year clearly out-pacing the rest of the VT teams but that was before the illnesses set in.
CVU has shown the past 2 weeks that they are not going to go quietly though. Alice Kredell is one of the favorites for the individual D1 title and will be the motor that drives this team. Their core is very young and this will be a very big test for the youthful Redhawks. Jasmine Nails is an experienced #2 and her leadership will help to have them prepared for race day. They have shown good pack running over the last 2 weekends and that will need to continue if they are going to take their 13th State Championship in a row. They also will need to prove that they can do it on the hills of Thetford. The last 2 races have favored teams that like to run flat courses and don’t really show who will be the strongest at the challenging hilly course for States. That doesn’t mean that you can’t be good at both as CVU has proven over the past 2 decades but this new young core will have to prove it on State’s day.
Dark horses for the team title would be MMU and Essex. MMU has shown a season-long progression of improvement. They were 13 points behind CVU at their home meet last Friday and with the unpredictability of the State Meet anything can happen if you are close to the other favorites. MMU also finished their 3rd runner before the CVU #3 so it could come down to the 4th and 5th runners of each team if MMU wants to challenge for a surprise victory. Essex has a decent grouping of five runners with a 44 second spread between their 1-5 runners but they may lack the upfront fire power that will probably be needed to pull off an upset on Saturday.
Individually the race probably should come down to four runners. Loghan Hughes of BFA St Albans should be the favorite considering she has not been beaten by any VT runner other than Ava Thurston of Harwood(racing in D2 race). Loghan has an amazing season and will look to continue it at the State Meet. One of her biggest threats, in my opinion, is going to come from Alice Kredell of CVU. Alice has shown continued improvement throughout the season and is clearly in a position to pull off an upset. She has had an impressive 9th grade year in HS cross and will look to cap it off with an upset in this race. Rebecca Cunningham of BHS can never be counted out after her performance last year. She is a tough and determined runner and that is exactly what you need to be on the challenging Thetford course. If she is not in the race for the title it will not be for a lack of trying on her part. The final contender should be Sierra Fisher of So Burlington. She is experienced and has dealt with many ups and downs during her HS career. She has had a very consistent season and has been one of the top 4 D1 runners the majority of the season. On states day anything can happen so if Sierra runs a smart and gutsy race who knows what she could accomplish!
Boys D1 Showdown!
This race really is just as close as the girls race AND may be affected by the weather and course conditions because it is the last varsity race of the day. With rain predicted to possibly begin around 3:00 am by 1:00 pm the course could be starting to get beaten up. By that time 5 varsity races will have been run on the course already so this could play a factor on who is able to deal with the conditions the best. To understand how close this race could be, the hypothetical meet predictor on athletic.net has this race at a 2 point difference for 1st and 2nd. The two favorites on paper are BFA St Albans and CVU. BFA will be attempting to win its first boys XC State Championship ever while CVU will be looking to win its 3rd in row.
BFA is led by it’s amazing trio of Ethan Mashtare, Jacob Tremblay and Calvin Storms. All three of them had amazing seasons and will look to continue their successful seasons into this Saturday. The trio will be looking to place all three of them into the top 5 or at least into the top 10. Their 4th runner, Porter Hurteau, has been solid all season and should provide them with a solid 4 and then it will come down to where their #5 comes in compared to CVU’s 5th runner. That is one of the greatest things about the sport of cross country. It is a full team sport and this year's boys race will most likely be determined by that.
CVU is poised to retain it’s hold on the D1 title if things break their way. They are led by Matt Servin who is probably the only runner who can even hope to keep Evan Thorton-Sherman, St J, in sight. He is then followed by a pretty tight 2-5 pack. The one unfortunate thing to happen to CVU is that they have had some injury issues at the end of the season. They would have had a 2-7 pack that could be interchangeable on any given day but now that pack has been whittled down to 2-5. This lessens their margin of error and will need all 5 to have solid days to probably retain the title. They clearly are capable of that which is what makes this race so exciting.
Three teams that have outside shots if things go their way on Saturday are So Burlington, St Johnsbury and Essex. SB has the strength of a pack of 5 that just finished with a paltry 51 second gap from 1-5. The issue will be if they can get that pack far enough forward and whether it can be done at Thetford. St J is driven by the individual favorite Ethan Thorton-Sherman. He is the CLEAR individual favorite and has not been beaten by a VT runner all season. With St J it will be if their #3-5 runners can move far enough forward to challenge the other 3 contenders.
Essex was the 3rd D1 finisher at the Thetford Invitational this season so they have shown that they can be solid at Thetford. They are led by Luke Miklus who should give them a top 5 to top 10 finisher. The main challenge for the Hornets will be if they can move their 2-5 far enough to challenge with the other teams. Luke helps give them a low number up front and now they need to see if they can jump the next 4 runners into the spots that they will need to contend.
In the individual race for the title it really comes down to only 2 runners unless something crazy happens. The clear favorite is Thorton-Sherman from St J but Matt Servin of CVU definitely has the ability to challenge him if the situation arises. Evan should control the race and he likes to be the front runner so that is not an issue for him. Matt Servin has the issue of having to make smart decisions to protect his team's chances at the team title so he can’t take unnecessary risks to try to stay with Evan. The trio from BFA all could have a shot on any given day but it will take some things to go their way. They are also in the same position as Matt Servin in that they can’t take unnecessary risks and put their team title chances in jeopardy.
It is finally time to find out who the kings of the mountain are….kind of literally and figuratively….at Thetford! It should be a great day of racing with the uncertainty of the weather report that could add even more drama to the day. Hopefully all of the teams are healthy and race their hearts out tomorrow and that the best teams win. The beauty of cross country is that everyone can be successful if they know when they are finished that they did the best that they could do and were beaten by a better team. Embrace the mud and run fast!!! Let’s go VT harriers!