By Bob York –
It began as a rebuilding year after last spring’s graduation left the Deerfield Academy boys cross country team seeking to fill three huge pair of sneakers. Just one year ago, the footwear in question belonged to Robert Beit, who placed fourth during the 2012 New England Prep School Athletic Council Championships, while Ben Wood and George Reich, who placed ninth and 12th respectively, were MIA as well.
“We were expecting to rebuild this season,” said coach Mike Schloat, “and by the time the season began, we felt as though we had the personnel in place … a blend of youth and experience … to keep us competitive. I didn’t see us winning any championships, but I saw us being able to hold our own.” And the Big Green mentor looked like a genius when his runners opened the season with a third-place finish at the Canterbury Invitational, thanks in large part to a sixth-place finish by Reed Horton (14), then a fourth-place showing one week later at the Westminster Invitational.
Just when Schloat had put the final brush strokes on his masterful rebuilding effort that had most assuredly gotten off on the right foot, he quickly found himself reshuffling his lineup due to a rash of injuries.
In just its third week of the season, the Big Green lost Horton, its top returning runner. The Deerfield co-captain who had finished 11th at the New England Championships the previous fall, limped to the sidelines with a season-ending stress fracture in his leg.
Two weeks later, another stress fracture claimed the remainder of the season for Hughes Benjamin (17), Deerfield’s number-five runner, “so, in a span of just two weeks, we lost two of our top five runners,” said Schloat, “and it meant we had to begin reshuffling the lineup.”
It also meant Deerfield’s harriers had little to show for their five-meet regular-season schedule except for the experience those who remained healthy were able to log in preparation for the New England meet. And once it was finally time for the NEPSAC title trek, they did themselves proud as far as their coach was concerned.
“We finished eleventh in a 14-team field,” said Schloat, of this championship race that was won by Exeter, which finished with 44 points. Second place went to Andover, with 92 points, while Choate was third, with 112 points. “I was very pleased with the way the kids performed though, especially our younger, more inexperienced runners … they really did a heckuva job.”
Gene Thagard (15), was Deerfield’s top participant, as he finished just about smack dab in the middle of the field, placing 47th out of a field of 98 runners, as he crossed the line in 18:01. This year’s winner of The Moreau C. Hunt Trophy, which is annually presented to the team’s Most Valuable Runner, made some giant strides past many of his New England counterparts during this year’s race, as he finished 74th just a year ago.
Henry Quesada (17) was next in line for the Big Green, as he placed 63rd in a time of 18:19, while Ethen Brand-LaBarge (16) wound up 68th in 18:25. David Hamilton (14), who was this year’s recipient of the Peter Brush Award, was right on Brand-LaBarge’s heels, as he posted a time of 18:26 to wind up 69th. Bryce Klehm (15) was 73rd with a clocking of 18:30, while Henry Sanford (15) and Sam Vigneault (17) rounded out the Deerfield attack. Sanford was 77th and Vigneault was 80th in respective times of 18:38 and 18:45.