The 2016 season drew to a close on Saturday for the Deerfield Cross Country team. A sunny, crisp fall day greeted visitors to Phillips Exeter Academy for the annual Division I New England Cross Country Championships. Exeter hosted the meet beautifully, offering a fair, challenging course and perfect conditions for season-culminating performances. Ultimately, the host school captured the boys’ team title, followed by their archrival, Phillips Andover. Deerfield’s boys, after struggling with a handful of minor injuries throughout the season, finally fielded a fully healthy varsity seven and surged to a strong fifth place finish.
The varsity boys race unfolded conservatively, with the lead pack cruising through the relatively flat first mile at a comfortable pace. Exeter’s lead runner—the eventual individual champion—surged into the lead just short of the halfway mark, stringing out the leaders as they galloped past the starting field full of spectators and into the woods section of the course. Hughes Benjamin, Deerfield’s lead runner, kept touch with that lead group and worked his way through the woods to emerge a few minutes later in a competitive trail pack of about half a dozen runners. Just behind Benjamin, Ricardo Gonzalez ’19 passed the halfway mark in position to make a charge at a top-20 finish. Deerfield’s numbers three through five runners—Will McNamara, Ethan Thayumanavan, and Marco Marsans—came through that same point in sight of each other, in a mass of runners that made predicting the team scores nearly impossible.
Exeter’s course finishes with a long rectangular circuit around their playing fields and a quarter-mile straightaway into their football stadium—perfect for spectators and athletes alike. After Exeter’s lead runner broke the tape to finish his career with a great win and Loomis Chaffee’s impressive freshman followed close behind, the rest of the lead runners streamed into the stadium with all the speed left they had in their legs. Benjamin and Gonzalez fought hard to hold position across that last stretch, finishing in 10th and 19th place, respectively. Both athletes earned All-New England honors for their efforts. Thanks to a valiant surge in the woods and across the final half-mile, Will McNamara ’18 finished right on Gonzalez’s heels in 24th place overall in a lifetime best time. Co-captain Ethan Thayumanavan, like Benjamin running in his last race for the Big Green, was next across the line for Deerfield in 45th place. Moments later, Marco Marsans ’18 rounded out Deerfield’s scoring five in 47th place, running one of the best races of his career on the strength of a fearless middle mile. Two sophomores coming off of extended layoffs due to injury, JJ Siritantikorn and Alex Weinman, completed Deerfield’s varsity seven for the day.
Ninth grader Chris Thagard was Deerfield’s top junior varsity finisher (50th), despite battling an illness during the final week of training. Other highlights from the JV race included great races from Donnie Sparks ’18, who ran a great strategic race to finish 89th overall; lifetime best times from seniors Alex Kaminsky and Will Sanford, tenth grader Eli Ji, junior Kevin Chen, and ninth grader Nick Fluty; and a return to racing for Tedddy McCarthy ’20, who has battled a knee injury for much of the season.
Deerfield’s fifth place finish was their best since a runner-up performance in 2011. It was a fitting way to send off co-captains Hughes Benjamin and Ethan Thayumanavan, who have led the next generation of Big Green harriers admirably in their time on the team.