In 2010, the Bishop Hendricken cross country team was one of the favorites to win the New England championship, but on a tough course with a short starting area, one of the Hawks’ top runners fell down. He couldn’t get back on the pace, and that was too much to overcome against a tough field. The Hawks finished second, a mere eight points out of first place.
This year, as the Hawks walked the course in Cumberland, Maine, on Friday, it was hard to keep the flashbacks away.
“It was a very similar thing to 2010,” said head coach Jim Doyle. “We had a good team, but it was a tough course. There was a lot of mud. One of our guys slipped and that was that. This was the same kind of thing. It was a very difficult course.”
But when Saturday came, the Hawks navigated it perfectly. Their first five runners all avoided trouble and finished in the top 60. The result was Hendricken’s second consecutive New England championship, and its third in four years.
“This one is a special one because it was so difficult,” Doyle said. “We were very fortunate. Again, we said time didn’t matter. We focused on place, and they packed well together.”
Hendricken finished with 85 points, 42 better than second-place La Salle. The Rams also finished second to Hendricken at the Rhode Island state meet but had beaten the Hawks earlier in the year at the Manhattan Invitational.
The Hawks knew they would be pushed again, which complicated the already difficult situation.
“We knew we would be challenged and we knew the team would be La Salle,” Doyle said. “In a race like that, you want to push yourself and do well, but we had to be a little conservative. We had to keep the team intact.”
The biggest key was the start. With more than 250 runners lined up and only about 600 feet before the course narrowed, the Hawks worried about getting boxed out. They worked on their start on Friday, and executed their plan on race day.
“The most important thing was the start,” Doyle said. “Our starting box was close to the rope on the left and we thought we could get cut off. But we put a big emphasis on the start and we ran it well. We got out the way we needed to.”
Only one runner, Michael Potter, got tripped up, but he quickly regrouped and got right back on the pace.
The rest of the course was full of additional challenges, with rolling hills throughout and mud almost everywhere.
“The best way to describe it was a roller-coaster,” Doyle said. “At one point, you think you’re coming out of the woods and then there’s a U-turn with a giant hill. It’s like a wall of mud. I had trouble getting up it just walking.”
A sharp left turn near the finish was also a challenge, and the eventual winner – Henry Wynne of Staples, Conn. – actually fell down in that spot before righting the ship in time to stay in front.
For Hendricken, junior Colin Tierney led the charge for the second year in a row. After finishing 20th at New Englands last season, he took 14th this time in 16:46.16.
“Colin was our leader again,” Doyle said. “Every week it seems like we have a different team leader. He did it last year at New Englands. He’s a strong guy and he’s tall, so he’s the kind of runner who can more easily adapt to those conditions.”
Senior Tyler Henseler was the second Hawk to cross the line, finishing 25th in 16:56.35, just 10 seconds behind Tierney. Senior Connor Doyle was five seconds back in 28th, and Potter was five seconds behind that in 35th. Alex Doherty finished 59th, 20 seconds behind Potter, to round out the scoring. Greg Beaudette finished 81st and Grant Gauthier grabbed 164th.
The goal for the Hawks was for everyone in their lead pack to be within 20 seconds of each other. Their top four fit into that timeframe exactly.
“They stuck together very well,” Jim Doyle said.
La Salle’s top finisher was Jake Grundy in 18th. Cumberland’s Trevor Crawley, the Rhode Island state champ, finished second overall, just two seconds behind Wynne. He was bidding to become the third consecutive Rhode Island boy to win New Englands, after Mike Marsella and Bobby Allen won the last two years.
On the girls’ side, Barrington added to Rhode Island’s banner day by taking the championship.
Hendricken will now turn its attention to the Nike Northeast Regional, which will be held Nov. 24 in Wappingers Falls, N.Y. The top two teams from that event will earn automatic bids to Nike Nationals.
Christian Brothers of New Jersey is the defending champ and is currently ranked first in the country.
“It’s not an inflated ranking,” Doyle said.
That means taking first is a long shot, but the Hawks hope to be in the mix for second. Nike Nationals will also hand out four at-large bids and the Hawks could be in the running for one of those.
But they’d rather take care of business on race day.
“It’s going to be a tough task to knock off Christian Brothers,” Doyle said. “There are a lot of other very good teams, but we’ll have a shot.”