The Lenox girls and Mount Greylock boys cross country teams will compete in today's Western Massachusetts meet as defending champions, but the squads will be doing so at a different venue than usual.
Normally held in Northfield, this year's championship will be held at Stanley Park in Westfield. That means runners will be on much flatter ground than they're used to at Northfield and within the Berkshires.
The Millionaires, entering as favorites to win on the girls side, gained experience at Stanley Park back on Oct. 17 at the Bay State Invitational. Some of the team's top runners include Emily Tibbetts, the winner of last season's Western Mass. title and this year's Berkshire County championship, plus Emma Jourdain, Maggie Sorrentino and Alice Najimy. Other Lenox competitors include Liz Jarck, Tate Morrison, Grace Ellrodt, Marion Huth, Alice Huth and Isabelle Conlon.
"We kind of tailored out training, I wouldn't say just for that course, but it was important for us to do the Bay State Invitational," Lenox coach Jeanne Teasdale said. "The girls gained experience running on the course. It's totally different from Northfield, but we looked at places that could be strategically important, especially toward the last 800 meters of the race. That's really boosted the girls' confidence."
Lenox didn't have any seniors on last season's Western Mass. championship team, a squad that also finished in second place at the Division II state meet. That gives the team a lot of experience heading into Western Mass. and the state meet, should the team qualify, which is also slated to be held at Stanley Park on Nov. 21.
"We've been lucky," Teasdale said of the team's youth from last year. "It's been that way for the last few years. Three of the girls tomorrow are seniors that have been on the team since seventh and eighth grade.
"We've slowly seen our team age, we've been fortunate to have girls that started early and every year have gotten stronger," Teasdale continued. "It's nice because they have the experience, too."
In Division II, Mount Greylock's Margo Smith will mix it up at the top of the standings after a stellar season saw her compete with Lenox's top runners. Other area runners to watch are Monument Mountain duo Grace Phair and Hannah Flynn, and Hoosac Valley's Jamie Barth. In Division I, Wahconah's Emily Lescarbeau was the top Warrior finisher at the Berkshire County Individuals.
Mount Greylock, which has won five straight Western Mass. titles on the boys side, is led by Tommy Kirby and Evan Arthur. Other runners include Jacob Fink, Cameron Castonguay, Sam Culver, Owen Brandriss, Jesse Seid, Josh Cheung, Jakin Miller and Dillon Whitley.
It is expected that the Mounties will receive a strong challenge from Cathedral, which finished in third place at last year's event. The school merged with Holyoke Catholic over the summer and, due to the larger enrollment, was actually slotted to compete in Division I until they were switched back to Division II after an appeal.
"We don't set the alignments, we're just going to run our best race," Mount Greylock coach Scott Burdick said. "It's cross country, you can't steal the ball or have a defense like in football. We'll stick what we've been doing all year. We always tend to run our best at the end of the season.
"We're ready, we're just going to do what we can do," Burdick continued. "We don't care what other teams do, if they're faster, they're faster."
Burdick said his squad this year is made up the way most good teams are. Most good squads, he said, have a frontrunner and then a pack. But Greylock has two frontrunners, with Kirby, who won the Berkshire County meet, in addition to Arthur, who has only finished behind Kirby this season. Then the Mounties have their pack of about four guys, according to Burdick.
Drury's Connor Meehan had a strong regular season running behind Kirby and Arthur and should mix it up for a top finish at the meet, as will Hoosac Valley's Jared Haley and Lee's Sam Harding.
All Berkshire County teams competing today will do so in Division II, except for Pittsfield, Taconic and Wahconah. Those three schools will run in Division I, according to the MIAA website.