By Dan Guttenplan
---- — NEWBURY — The pained expressions on the faces of Triton cross-country runners as they crossed the finish line yesterday didn’t depict a celebration, but the day will be remembered as a historic one for the program.
Triton competed on its new course, Old Town Hill in Newbury, for the first time in school history. The Vikings moved from the Triton Regional High campus in order to give the runners a more difficult cross-country course.
“Our course at the high school was just loops around the fields,” Triton coach Joe Colbert said. “That’s not what cross-country is supposed to be. This is what it’s supposed to be.”
Historically, the Triton cross-country programs have not been as successful as the track program, although the Vikings girls team did have a state-championship contender in Keely Maguire from 2005 to 2008.
However, the Triton outdoor track programs — on both the boys’ and girls’ side — won multiple Cape Ann League titles between 2004 and 2012, while the cross-country programs did not earn any league titles.
“It was getting to be a competitive disadvantage,” Colbert said. “Our course was flat, and other teams were finding it really easy. Then we’d go away, and we weren’t prepared. It was really hurting our program, and we needed a real course.”
Old Town Hill lives up to its name with a steep incline just after the mile mark on the 2.88-mile course. The peak of the climb is 495 feet higher than its starting point, and on a clear day, runners can see Maine at the top.
Although there are relatively long stretches in an open field, approximately half the race takes place on narrow paths through the woods.
After one meet on the new course, the consensus seemed to be that runners must make their moves outside of the woods.
“I’m sure it would have been pleasant to walk because it’s very scenic,” said Hamilton-Wenham’s Emily Horgan.
“I was very scared that I was going to trip and fall on a root, and our coach made sure we were very careful about the roots. There were tons of scenic views. I’m pretty sure 80 percent of the race was single file, but that’s OK because it’s nice to have someone in front and back to push you.”
Triton runners began training at Old Town Hill this summer, but before they did, they cleared a trail through the woods in the middle third of the race.
The team was scheduled to open its season on the course in early September, but flooding from rainstorms forced Colbert to push back the date.
“We cleared the trail over the summer, and the kids volunteered their time,” Colbert said. “It was a team bonding experience. As we go forward as a program, our kids will get used to it. I know they’re finding it challenging now, but it’s history for our program.”
Boys captain Austin Stevens didn’t seem to mind the added degree of difficult on the Newbury course.
“The old one was bland and open,” Stevens said. “It was kind of boring. This keeps it interesting. It’s challenging, but it’s interesting and fun to run on.”