The Bishop Hendricken cross country team has learned over the years that anything can happen at the New England Championships.
Two years ago, the Hawks continued a magical season when they won the title by a point. Last year, one of their top runners had trouble at the start, and the team ended up missing first place by four points.
On Saturday at Ponaganset High School, the Hawks rolled the dice again, and after a mile, head coach Jim Doyle was starting to worry.
“It’s such a tough start – you’ve got 275 runners on a starting line that’s 180 feet wide,” Doyle said. “At a mile, our guys were about 10 to 20 seconds behind their pace. You’re always on edge when that happens.”
But the Hawks stuck with it, and two miles later, Doyle was feeling a lot better.
The Hawks placed four runners in the top 50 and got their fifth man across in 80th as they captured the New England title with 116 points. Connecticut’s Fairfield Prep was second with 172 points.
It’s the 11th New England cross country title for Hendricken.
“We overcame the adversity,” Doyle said. “It’s a lot of runners and a lot of talented runners so the pace is intense. It was really important for our guys to get out and then to stay focused. Some survived it better than others, but for the most part I was happy with how we managed to get through it.”
The Hawks came in as the favorite. They were ranked 30th in the nation in the latest ESPN Powerade Fab 50, tops among New England teams. In the previous two weekends, they won the Rhode Island Class A and state championships.
Both of those titles were also won at Ponaganset, but Saturday’s New England meet presented different challenges. The field was significantly bigger – 275 for New Englands compared with 140 for states – and the pace was faster. Chariho’s Mike Marsella won the Rhode Island title in 15:50.68. On Saturday he won the New England crown in 15:26. In terms of depth, 85 runners came in under 17 minutes.
“The thing about New England is it always shapes up as something that’s a lot tougher,” Doyle said. “The field size is huge and they’re all good. Top six from all the states.”
The Hawks got out of the gates as best they could, and from there, it was all about the one attribute that’s defined them all year – depth.
Sophomore Colin Tierney, who ran second on the team at the state meet, surged to the top spot, taking 20th overall in 16:20. That finish earned him a spot on the All-New England team, which covers the top 25 performers.
“Every week, somebody else steps up for us,” Doyle said. “That’s the way it’s been all year. Colin Tierney had an unbelievable performance.”
Freshman Michael Potter followed Tierney in 31st, finishing in 16:32. Junior Tyler Henseler took 45th in 16:43 and senior Mark Vuono finished 48th in 16:44. Collin Manning rounded out the scoring for the Hawks, taking 80th in 16:58.
“We knew our depth was going to make the difference,” Doyle said. “Fairfield Prep and Chariho both have four good runners. We had all seven of our guys in before they got their fifth runners in. That makes a substantial difference.”
Connor Doyle and Greg Beaudette didn’t score but ran well. Doyle finished 88th and Beaudette took 139th.
“It’s always hard to interpret what you’re seeing when guys are running past you,” Doyle said. “But when we saw our sixth and seventh guys coming in before their fifth, we knew we had a pretty good score. We had a good feeling.”
The Hawks found out their fate at the post-race awards ceremony, and the celebration was on. But for the Hawks, their third championship in as many weeks isn’t the end of the line.
Hendricken will now compete in the Nike Northeast Regionals, which will be held on Nov. 26 in Wappingers Falls, N.Y. The top two teams in that race will qualify for Nike Nationals.
For a young Hendricken team, that’s a lofty goal, but it’s one they’re ready to chase. And whatever happens, the experience will be a good one.
“Our goal is to get into the top two,” Doyle said. “It’s going to be tough. It’ll be good just to be there because most of our guys will be back next year. But our goal is one of those top two spots. We’ll take a crack at it and see what we can do.”