They did it! The Big Green Harrier Machine traveled to Wallingford for Choate Day, ironically, and took the cream of the crop of New England prep school cross country by storm, winning the Division I meet with an historically low 34 points. For the first time since 2012, the top five girls on the team were awarded All-New England status. The JV squad similarly exceled, placing third behind the impossibly deeper and larger schools of Exeter and Andover. Every girl performed magnificently and ran the equivalent of, or close to, a personal record on the incredibly challenging Choate course. The race conditions were prime for good performances, with a bright sunshine filtering through the trees and a cold snap of a breeze keeping the competitors cool as they hammered the trails, fields, and significant hills. Tenth-grader Victoria Patterson boldly took the race by the scruff of the neck and led all competitors in the first mile loop, but eventually succumbed to the strength of a nationally ranked St. Paul’s senior. Vanquishing all other competitors (including those who beat her in last year’s race), Victoria turned in an amazing effort to finish second (18:38). Following her was Noelle Abeyta, who had the duel of her life with Andover’s second girl. Assigned to run with that girl and pass her in the last mile, Noelle did just that, sticking like Velcro through the rolling first two miles and, with two hundred meters to go in the race, passing the Andover girl. Not to be outdone, the Andover girl then passed Noelle back, who, with one final valiant effort, outleaned the girl at the finish line to beat her by a fraction of a second (19:01). Following her was Erin Hudson, who finished with an identical time, to the second (19:22), to last year’s championship meet, on the much flatter and significantly faster Exeter course – worth a huge 30-second improvement for this year! Sarah Jane O’Connor has a similarly excellent run, finishing tenth overall with what was probably the best race of her career, to-date (20:07). Helen Downes wrapped up the top-five scorers in the varsity with a monumental 12th–place finish and an incredibly impressive time of 20:12. Ninth-grader Grace Russell ran an extraordinarily gutsy race, finishing as the sixth Deerfield competitor with a time of 21:04, which would have made her the top runner overall for two of the other varsity teams. Following Grace was Esme Benjamin (21:19), who battled a strained stomach muscle, in addition to the hills, roots, rocks, and wind of Wallingford. Winning the championship was a fitting capstone to an undefeated regular season.
In the JV race, Deerfield followed the overwhelming depth of larger rivals Exeter and Andover to finish third among all twelve teams. Led by a courageous Jane Mallach (21:30), who took the race out from the start, the team included Captain Nora Markey who rocked a 21:56, Erin Howe who audaciously charged down the last 500 meters to pass a handful of girls, a fleet-footed Ely Burke who illustrated in no uncertain terms what turnover at the end of a race is all about (22:34), a similarly fleet-footed finisher in Sofi Sintes (22:56), a dutiful soldier of a runner in Sami Dulam (22:58), and a plucky Gemma Bishop (23:26) who showed us all what running with heart means. This powerful JV squad would have finished ninth in the varsity race, missing eighth by two seconds, which is a black-and-white testament to how hard these girls competed.
Coaches Karbon and Hughes and I would like to thank these wonderfully enthusiastic, thoughtful, supportive, fierce competitors for the hard work they did all season, day in and day out, and for the infectious joy they exuded. Even on the hard days, these girls brought a warmth and joy to our practices that made the hard times “sweet and delectable.” We also want to take a moment to thank our captains, Nora Markey and Carolyn Melvin, for their leadership and warmth, and for fostering that all-important family spirit that exemplifies the girls’ cross country program. Likewise, we want to acknowledge our seniors for whom we have the greatest reverence; we will miss them dearly. They are Nora, Carolyn, Roopa Venkatraman, Nailah Barnes, Amanda Cui, Helen Downes, Anna Harvey, Erin Hudson, Sarah Jane O’Connor, and Sofi Sintes. I personally would also like to thank my fellow coaches who helped keep me relatively stress-free and brought a warm and encouraging camaraderie to our work. Finally, a special shout-out to four seniors who have been at the core of this team for three years now and are chiefly responsible for the cycle back to a positive, can-do attitude that has attracted other runners to their proudly waving standard. They are Helen, Sarah Jane, Carolyn, and Nora. For their hard work, undying belief in their team and themselves, and their formal and informal leadership, we all owe a great debt of gratitude. Their contributions, and the contributions of our other 2017 runners, will be a remarkable heritage to which the next generation will aspire to be worthy.
Dennis M. Cullinane