By Bob York–
While the majority of Deerfield’s sports teams will remain on campus tomorrow to entertain their counterparts from Choate, two Big Green squads will be roughing it a bit. For them, the day will consist of a two-hour bus trip into New Hampshire, hopefully a “turf and surf feast,” and then the bus ride home.
The Big Green girls and boys cross country teams will make their way to St. Paul’s for the New England Prep School Athletic Conference Cross Country Championships. The girls’ race is scheduled for a 1:30 pm start, while the boys are due to toe the starting line at 2:15.
Deerfield’s boys water polo team, meanwhile, will be at Exeter for its shot at a fifth New England crown in the past eight years. The second-seeded Big Green squad (11-3) will face third-seeded Exeter (1-5) in one semifinal game, while top-ranked Brunswick Academy will tangle with the winner of Friday night’s play-in game between Andover and Loomis. The two winners will than square off in the finals at 4:00 pm.
With a third consecutive undefeated regular season under their belt and the engine still intact that drove them to the 2012 crown, this season’s version of Big Green girls country is getting the nod to successfully defend its title.
Coach Dennis Cullinane admits “we were unstoppable last year, but the other teams have upped their game this season and closed the gap. I feel if we are to successfully defend our title, we’re going to need outstanding efforts from all of our runners.”
The veteran Big Green mentor knows of what he speaks, as he watched his squad’s regular-season win streak, which now rests at 24, nearly come to a close this fall on two different occasions. During the first close call, Deerfield squeaked past Hotchkiss, 28-29, while Andover made it a five-point bulge, 25-30, before running out of gas.
Cullinane, whose teams have reached the medals podium in each of the past three years with a bronze medal in 2010, a silver medal in 2011 and a gold medal last year, saw four of his runners finish in the top 10 during last fall’s festivities. The fact that three of those runners are back and hoping to improve on past performances has to put a smile on his face.
For starters, Cullinane’s niece, Devinne Cullinane ’14 will be looking to improve on her third-place showing of last year, when she finished just 1:05 off the gold-medal pace. Any upward movement on Cullinane’s behalf will be difficult, however, as both girls who beat Cullinane to the finish line last fall are still competing on the prep school level.
Andover’s Anoush Shehadh ’15 and Samantha Glass ’14 of Hotchkiss, who grabbed the gold and silver medals respectively at last year’s championship race, will both be at the starting line Saturday. Both have already appeared on the Big Green’s regular season schedule and both have prevailed over Cullinane.
“I’m going to need to get off to a fast start,” said Cullinane, who will be seeking her third straight berth on the All New England Team after finishing eighth as a sophomore and third last year. “Like all New England championships, it’s going to be a very competitive race, so a good start is of the utmost importance.”
As for a timetable, Cullinane, who hit the finish line in 18:22 last year, feels as though a clocking of anywhere between 18:30 and 19:00 could result in another invite to the medals podium.
“We went up to St. Paul’s earlier in the fall to check out the course and take a jog over it,” said Cullinane, who plans on running cross country and track at Cornell University next year. “It’s a very challenging course and includes a couple of hills that could possibly slow some times down a bit.”
Teammate Lilah Lutes ’14, who placed fourth last year and pushed Cullinane all the way to the finish line by finishing just four seconds behind her, is back. The three-year letter winner, who has a college wish list consisting of Brown, Michigan, and UCLA, and hopes to be a walk-on wherever she goes, is a two-time All-New England runner as well, placing 14th as a sophomore.
“I was thrilled with a fourth-place finish last year,” said Lutes, who is Deerfield’s fourth-seeded runner this year. “We’ve all been training very hard for this race … we began our individual preparations this past summer and have intensified that preparation throughout the season.”
Phoebe Morss ’15, who placed eighth last fall in the title trek in a time of 18:44, is the Big Green’s number-two runner, while Caroline Wagner ’14, who missed much of last season with a leg injury, is seeded at the third spot. Samantha Morse ’15, meanwhile, is the fifth seed.
Coach Mike Schloat of the Big Green boys cross country team, meanwhile, is “just hoping we can wind up somewhere in the middle of the pack.” With the amount of injuries this squad has been dealing with since the regular season began, that may be just wishful thinking.
A number of runners have been sidelined this fall, and the Big Green’s top five runners haven’t been immune. Number-one runner Reed Horton ’15 has been on the sidelines since week four with a stress fracture, as has Hughes Benjamin ’17. The promising freshman went down with a stress fracture in just his third week of competition.
So, heading into Saturday’s competition, Schloat is looking to his current 1-2 punch of Gene Thagard ’15 and Henry Quesada ’17 to keep Deerfield in the competition.
Boys Water Polo
The third-seeded Big Red of Exeter (11-5) should have a pair of distinct advantages when it takes on the Big Green Saturday in the semifinal round of the New England Prep School Athletic Conference’s Boys Water Polo Championship. One will be that the tournament is being held in Exeter’s pool. The other is revenge. When these two teams met during the regular season, Deerfield prevailed in double overtime, 9-8.
During their last meeting, Quinn Smith ’14 helped spark the deep-sixing of Exeter with a trio of goals, while Hugo Marsans ’15, Stepan Severov ’15, and Conor Sullivan ’15 all chipped in two apiece. Francesco Franzinetti ’14 took care of the defense as the Big Green goaltender turned away 14 Exeter shots.
“It was a tremendously exciting game,” said Big Green Coach Mark Scandling, who, with four boys titles and two girls crowns already under his belt, will be seeking his seventh New England pennant overall this fall, “and the kids deserve a great deal of credit to have come back in this one as we allowed two late goals that caused the game to continue … one coming with just six seconds remaining in regulation play that tied the game and sent it into overtime.”
Deerfield’s big guns against Exeter have been its big guns all season long, as what Scandling describes as a “well balanced offense” has seen all four finish the regular season having reached the 40-goal plateau. “To me, this is the perfect offense because it causes so many problems for the opposition,” said Scandling. “If you have one, or maybe two big scorers, it’s not that difficult to double team them. When you have four players who can score, you just have to pick and choose who you’ll be covering and that’s bound to leave someone uncovered.”
Although Scandling knows full well that “we’ve got our work cut out for us against Exeter … it’ll be a huge challenge for us to make it into the finals,” if the Big Green should make it that far, there could be a light at the end of the tunnel. It owns a 2-1 record against the remaining teams in the field. It dropped a 10-6 decision to Brunswick during its first game of the year, but has a 12-8 victory over Loomis and a 13-4 win against Andover.