By Evan Mugford
---- — NORTHFIELD — For the most part, life doesn’t always go according to plan. There are bumps and snags, flat tires and sore throats — setbacks that seem to enjoy throwing a collective wrench in the works at the most inopportune moment. Setting goals is one thing, but meeting them unscathed, that can be another — unless, of course, you happen to be a cross-country runner for the Newburyport Clippers.
Competing at Saturday’s MIAA All State Cross Country Meet in Northfield, the Clipper boys and girls continued their stellar seasons by continuing to exceed expectations by meeting their own. The boys team placed third at the Division 2 competition with a total time of 1:27:16.66, an average time of 17:27.34, and sum of 163 points — a single point more than fourth place Sandwich (1:28:00), and an impressive achievement seeing as how it was exactly what the team set out to do. As was predicted, Pembroke (1:23:38) and Bishop Feehan (1:25:00) finished first and second, respectively.
“It was just a great surprise — a huge thrill,” said senior co-captain Joe Santo. “When you think it over, I think luck was on our side. We all stayed healthy, and we were healthy when we needed to be, but it also does say a lot about how hard this team worked. We did what we needed to do to make it this far. We trained, and we went after it, and it came out close to perfect.”
To a degree, even coach Don Hennigar is a bit taken aback by how neatly things seem to come to fruition for the Clipper boys.
“It’s been a special season for them,” Hennigar said. “In reality, they met every single goal that they set for themselves at the start of the season — to go undefeated, win the Cape Ann league meet, the Division 5 meet, and finish in the top three at All-States. You couldn’t expect or ask for anymore, and I think they’d say the same thing.”
The Clippers were led by the running of sophomore sensation Nick Carleo, who placed seventh with a final time of 16:28:22. The winner of the race was Lenox Memorial senior Scott Carpenter, who finished in a time of 15:55:75.
Rounding out the other six Newburyport dashers were Santo (17th; 16:56.99), freshman Joseph Molvar (56th; 17:40:06), junior Chris Orlando (62nd; 17:44:25), junior Max Vye (111th; 18:27:14), senior Sawyer Updike (122nd; 18:34:88), and sophomore Gabriel Ficht (124th; 18:35:75).
It should be noted that Georgetown junior Tom Mulligan placed 80th with a time of 18:02:65.
Although they weren’t able to make a top-three finish, the Newburyport girls team continued their stellar season by finishing 13th in the Division 2 race with a sum of 304 points, a total time of 1:48:29.76, and an average time of 21:41.96. Bishop Feehan placed first (1:38:56), Tyngsborough placed second (1:39:33) and Weston came in third (1:32:32).
As the Clipper girls had done all year, they continued to exceed expectations and old times.
“Just to make it to All-States is a major accomplishment,” said Hennigar, who noted that only 19 teams qualify for Division 2. “We had raced on that course earlier in the year, and this time around, nearly every single one of the girls ran considerably faster than the first time they raced there. They ran very well, and they should be very proud of how well their season unfolded.”
Pacing the Clippers were sophomore Kristin Mackie (74th; 21:09:19), junior Kelly Conway (81st; 21:20:80), junior Erin Carroll (89th; 21:29:12), sophomore Rachel Haley (117th; 22:05:27), senior captain Liz Fiascone (131st; 22:25:38), junior Rose Hart (150th; 23:12:13) and sophomore Lillian Eagan (158th; 23:40:19).
Other local runners included Triton junior Liz Willmonton (111th; 22:00:00) and Pentucket senior Marissa Porter, who placed 54th with a time of 20:41:38.
Along with several other Cape Ann League schools, both Newburyport teams will be heading to Wappingers Falls, N.Y., this weekend for the Nike Team Nationals Regional Meet — a gathering place for running teams all around New England and the Middle Atlantic that will serve as a qualifier for a select elite teams that will move on to the Nationals in Oregon.
For many athletes, Wappingers Falls is the last race of the season, and for seniors like Santo, it will ultimately prove to be his final cross-country competition at the high school level.
“It’ll end up being a great chance for the team to bond one last time before the end of the season,” Santo said. “We’ll all run as hard as we can, but more than anything, I think we’ll use it as a way to really just help us understand how special the season’s been.”
With New York and the fall’s final race on the horizon, Hennigar couldn’t be more proud of his cast of athletes — he also couldn’t conceal his excitement about next year’s teams.
“If someone asked me what the ideal season would be for these boys before the year began, it would have gone exactly like this,” said Hennigar, “but this team is still eager to make another step, and I think they have a great shot of doing that next year. We have plenty of talent coming back.
“Likewise, the girls had a tremendous season of surpassed expectations. Their team goal was to finish 8-2, and they went ahead and finished 9-1, and then to top it off, they made the All-States again, which is a huge accomplishment. Minus senior captain Liz Fiascone, all of those girls will be back. Next year should be very exciting from a running standpoint.”
Fiascone believes the girls team will make a regular occurrence out of competing at the All-State Meet in the coming seasons.
“I think they’ll be even better,” Fiascone said. “The team is very young; the whole top seven are juniors and sophomores, plus there are some very solid freshmen coming up, so I think they’ll be even stronger next year.”