GREAT BARRINGTON -- At the beginning of the 2013 cross country season, the Monument Mountain girls had high hopes.
This was understandable. The Spartans had finished 12-3 at the end of the 2012 regular season, and put together a nice postseason: They finished third in Western Mass. and qualified for the state meet, only the third time in school history a Spartan girls team had accomplished that.
There, they finished 18th overall. Nice.
Things got a little less bright, though, when runners Jordan Begley and Eleanor Stewart went down early in the year with injuries. Begley was a coaches' All-Berkshire selection, and Stewart scored in every one of the Spartans meets last year, according to coach Chris Unsworth.
But the Spartans haven't really missed a beat. With a win over Hoosac Valley on Wednesday, Monument improved to 10-0, and, with five more meets left, is hoping to finish the regular season undefeated.
"I can't really believe we've done as well as we have without Jordan and Eleanor," said Monument co-captain Sarah Benedict.
But Benedict and fellow senior co-captains Heather Hassett and Allyson Berger have been the hub of a deep, talented team that has paced the county so far.
Both Hassett and Benedict believe that offseason workouts have had the dual effect of preparing the team for the season, and forging a closer squad.
"We had three a week," said Hassett. "The first two days were running three to four miles. The last one of the week was working on strength and conditioning."
Unsworth is also a fan of the workouts, which were coordinated by the team captains.
"I think it helped us get into condition a little sooner," he said. "And that translated into success."
And it probably contributed to Monument's increased depth. Against the Hurricanes, the Spartans placed eight runners in the top 12 to win the meet 19-44. Hassett won the race, while Berger was third, Kayla Dillon was sixth and Caroline Bissaillon seventh.
"Some of our younger runners have stepped up," said Unsworth.
Monument went a long way toward a county championship on Sept. 18, with wins over defending Western Mass. champion Lenox and runner-up Mount Greylock in the same meet.
Last year, Lenox, Greylock and Monument finished 1-2-3 in the Western Mass. race. Unsworth believes that the Mounties and the Millionaires will again be the principal obstacles in this year's championship meet.
"There are other teams in Western Mass., and we're keeping an eye on them, too," he said. "But I think these three teams will be the teams that will contend again this year."
Hassett said that while the earlier win was certainly big for the program, "it was early in the year. It doesn't mean a lot."
What would mean a lot is to finish undefeated and then do well in Western Mass.
"It would be nice to win out and finish unbeaten and then be successful at Western Mass.," said Benedict.
You mean win Western Mass., clarified a reporter.
"Yes," said Benedict without hesitation.
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