PINKHAM NOTCH — The Kennett High cross-country team is off and running well.
The Eagles officially opened their racing season by running in the Paul LeTarte Memorial Invitational, at Great Glen Trails in Pinkham Notch, on Saturday and turned in several impressive performances against some of the top runners and schools in the Granite State.
“It went well,” said Bernie Livingston, Eagles’ head coach. “We had a really good first meet. I think we were probably the last team in the state to compete in a meet, but I don’t have a problem with that.”
Four weeks is what it takes to get athletes through a successful preseason and up to speed to put their best feet forward in the meets that count, according to Livingston.
“Ideally, in my perfect world, I like to open the first week with a mile time trial; hill running in the second week, the annual Kennett Challenge 2.2-mile run at the Kennett Middle School the third week, and then ease into the first race during the fourth week,” he said. “This year, the schedule worked perfectly.”
Livingston added: “I was very pleased with the first race performances. I don’t like to peak too early and have to try to carry that pressure through the season. Preseason was long enough and it was the right time for us to compete. We go slowly, incrementally up and up.”
The meet attracted, hosted by Berlin High, attracted Keene and Pinkerton Academy, two of the top teams in Division I, along with Merrimack Valley, Newfound, Plymouth, Trinity, Monadnock, Prospect Mountain and Kingswood.
The Keene girls took team honors in the varsity race, scoring 29 points. Kennett was second with 54, while Plymouth edged Merrimack Valley for third with 119 points.
Merrimack Valley junior Sophia Reynolds, who was named the Gatorade New Hampshire Girls' Cross Country Runner of the Year as a freshman, won the 5K race, covering the course in 20:13.
Keene took the next four places before Kennett senior Amy Burton crossed the finish line sixth in 21:25.
Burton was followed by fellow senior Grace Perley, 10th, 22:25, and hot her on her heels was freshman Piper Lopashanski, 11th, 22:27; Kaylee McLellan, 13th, 23:06; Ella Ugino, 14th, 23:20; McKayla Dockham, 21st, 24:12; and Rylie Walker, 22nd, 24:12.
“Our girls ran very well,” said Livingston. “For a first, everyone ran right around where I hoped they would.”
The Kennett boys, although short on numbers, got solid first races from the four who suited up on Saturday.
“We were able to field a full team despite one boy running in the JV race and another being away with his parents,” Livingston said.
Keene’s Torin Kindopp won the race in 16:07.
Ben Biche was the top Kennett finisher in 19:03, followed by teammates Tristen Smith, 21st, 19:14; freshmen Patrick Laughland, 25th, 1`9:34; and Nolan Proux, 41st, 21:06.
“All four times were good,” Livingston said. “I made predictions based on their mile times and their two-mile times at the Kennett Challenge. A lot of our kids came close to their two-mile average time at Kennett but are not carrying that average for three miles. We’re not quite in race shape yet, but I think by the Manchester Central meet on Sept. 25, we’ll be where we want to be.”
The Kennett girls won the JV race with 19 points, besting Merrimack Valley and Plymouth.
Sophomore Molly DellaValla won the race in 24:22, while teammate and freshman Stephanie Kendzierski was second in 24:44.
KHS sophomore Catherine Shackford was fourth, 24:35, followed by Mara Taylor, fifth, 25:26; Eliah Feil, seventh, 27:49; and Zoe Graves, 14th, 30:49.
For the boys, Kennett’s lone runner, Om Patel, was 28th in 30:23, running five minutes faster than his first race last year.
The Paul LeTarte Memorial Invitational at Great Glen was not held in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Great Glen is my favorite cross-country course," Livingston said. "It's not real fast, but it's a fair course. I wish we were able to run there more often."
After the race, KHS Assistant Coach Eileen Livingston was honored when she was presented with the eighth annual Tom McGrath Award by Race Director Bob Lord. Before his death, McGrath had been a spokesperson for New Hampshire cross-country running for almost 45 years.
"Tom was a good friend of ours," Livingston said. "He announced at our home meets. Anyone who knew cross-country knew Tom."
He added: “Eileen is an outstanding choice as this year’s recipient. She’s very deserving and does so much for our team.”
Livingston said this season “feels a little bit more normal” than the 2020 campaign.
“We had our first pizza night in a while this past Friday,” he said. “Everybody, maybe except for just one person, was there and it felt normal, which is a good thing these days. The captains take on the team dinners, (laughing) they are our food czars.”
The Eagles are scheduled to race in Whitefield this Saturday in a meet hosted by White Mountains Regional at 9 a.m.
“There should be eight schools there, a lot of smaller schools,” Livingston said. “It’s a hilly course, but I like it. It’s so nice up that way. Almost the entire race is on grass.”