By Dan Guttenplan
---- — Nick Carleo says he placed seventh at last year’s All-State Cross-Country Championships, so it seems only natural to ask the Newburyport junior how many of the runners who beat him are still in high school.
“Do you want me to list them?” Carleo asks.
Yes, Carleo has an All-State championship on his mind a year after he saw how close he could get to the top as a sophomore. Carleo was the top sophomore at last year’s Division 2 All-State Championships, and only three of the six runners who placed ahead of him will return.
The time difference between Carleo and the top returning runner, Paul Hogan of Burlington, was just under 25 seconds at last year’s All-State meet. With that in mind, Carleo put in his first consistent summer of training, logging 50 to 60 miles per week in hopes of setting himself up for a run of championships in November.
“I had my first real solid summer of training,” Carleo said. “Before my freshman year, I didn’t really run at all. Before my sophomore year, I ran, but it wasn’t consistent training. This year, our whole team put in a good summer.”
Carleo did some of his training on a family vacation in Oregon. Late in the summer, he attended a New Balance running camp in Western Mass. In Tuesday’s opening meet against Hamilton-Wenham, Carleo cruised to a 15:45 at Maudslay State Park, just 24 seconds off his best time and 29 seconds off Travis Landreth’s school record. That run came after a conversation with Newburyport coach Don Hennigar in which Carleo agreed not to overexert himself.
“I was talking to my coach about it, and he didn’t want me to pour my soul into it,” Carleo said. “I’ll go for the record against North Reading or Saugus later this year, but only if I’m feeling good that day. I have another year.”
The clock ticking down toward the end of Carleo’s high school career seemed to have an endless supply of time when he burst onto the scene as a freshman and qualified for Nationals during the indoor season. Last year as a sophomore, his breakout performance came during the indoor season when he placed third in the mile at the All-State Championships with a 4:17.
“It’s a maturity thing,” Hennigar said. “He came in as a freshman and didn’t really understand. It was the whole aspect of, ‘What’s going on? I’m coming out for the team because I like to run.’ He didn’t see the big picture.
“After being around a couple of years, now he’s into who’s around, who’s good, who is the competition,” Hennigar said. “He also understands he can’t just get by on natural ability. He has to work as hard as those kids from other schools who finished ahead of him. He’s in a much different place than he was last year both in terms of fitness and his mental approach.”
As a junior, Carleo also seems to be taking more ownership of the team’s overall success. When listing his goals for the season, before he referenced individual titles at the Division 5 meet or All-State Championships, he addressed his primary goal of helping the team improve on its third-place finish at All-State Championships last year. The Clippers are two-time defending Eastern Mass. Division 5 champions.
“He’s knocking on the door of a lot of achievements,” Hennigar said. “He’s never won an individual Division 5 championship, so that’s on his bucket list. I know All-States is important to him, and the big thing is to have the team do very well. He’d very much like to have the course record (15:12) at Maudslay. We’ll get him those opportunities in the next couple of years.”