All season long, the Lenox girls cross country team has been working toward one singular goal.
Now, it's time for the Millionaires to get over their final hurdle
After finishing as runners-up in last year's Massachusetts All-State Divison II Cross Country Championships, the Millionaires are aiming to take home the D-II title for the first time in program history today at Stanley Park in Westfield.
It's a task that is daunting, for sure, but coach Jeanne Teasdale has been keeping her side loose as they prepare to chase after history.
"I think this week it's been just calming nerves," the 15th-year coach of the Millionaires said. "Keeping everybody focused and centered on the coming race.
"The girls were very excited about winning [the Western Mass. D-II title] last weekend. They knew we had one more week. Just keeping their focus, like I said, it was so important."
The Millionaires have experience on their side. Six runners from last year — Emma Jourdain, Emily Tibbetts, Maggie Sorrentino, Alice Najimy, Alice Huth and Liz Jarck — returned this year, and all have made major strides in their running ability. The question now, is, will that experience be enough to hold off the competition?
Milton, an Eastern Mass. school that won the D-IV meet last weekend, will be Lenox's biggest challenger. Milton had two placers in the top 20 at states last year in Bridget Mitchell and Collette O'Leary, and the two finished first and third last weekend. The team also put two other runners in the top 12 last weekend in Elise O'Leary and Naomi Negassi.
"We are pretty much even, and we know that," Teasdale said of her side compared to Milton. "It's just going to be who has a better race as a team. One thing about our girls is, they run as a team, they are very supportive, very encouraging, and the atmosphere in terms of this past week has been typical of them."
Other than Milton, defending champion Hamilton-Wenham returns its second and third runners from last year's winning team, EMass D-VI champions Manchester Essex could make some noise, and EMass D-V champion Old Rochester edged Hamilton-Wenham last weekend in the EMass championships.
One big thing Teasdale and her team have worked on this season is closing the gap between her top runners and the final placers.
Last week at the Western Mass. sectionals, the difference between Lenox's fifth runner, Tate Morrison, and their sixth and seventh runners, Jarck and Grace Ellrodt, was 19 seconds. That, Teasdale said, was important.
"We have a few girls that could be the fifth runner in," Teasdale said. "They know, the fourth and fifth, they know they play an important part tomorrow. Looking at this, it's everyone running their strongest. The roles that they play, they are very supportive of each other. Our fourth and fifth, whoever that may be, knows what they have to do."
The course for the Millionaires will be a familiar one when the starting gun goes off at 11 a.m. This will be the third time Lenox has raced at Stanley Park this year, and Teasdale said the familiarity can only help her side.
One thing is certain in the Lenox camp, though — no one is taking anything for granted. After surprising many with their finish last year, the Millionaires know where the target is this year.
"Looking at this year, we are on everyone's radar," Teasdale said. "I think this year the key is that, and we tell the girls this, is to run your own race. Don't try to do anything different than you have been doing. Hopefully the outcome will be in our favor."
Other Teams and Racers
The Lenox girls won't be the only team to represent Berkshire County at the All-State meet.
Both Mount Greylock programs will also be running full squads, and Greylock boys coach Scott Burdick was plenty happy to see his team's season continue after winning the Western Mass. D-II race last weekend.
"We all tend to run our best at the end of the season," Burdick said. "A lot of years we aren't always the favorite but we kind of tend to come on at the end. That's the way that our training has been planned all season, to run our best at the end."
What made last week even more impressive was how the Mounties stepped up to win.
While Tommy Kirby was a slam dunk to lead the team at the top, the Mounties had to deal with the team's typical third finisher, Owen Brandriss, falling out of the race due to cramps, and the team's fifth runner, Jacob Fink, was battling shin splints.
Greylock is healthy now, and while Burdick said his team is far from a favorite to win a team title, he thinks they are at least in the discussion for a top-three finish.
"We are full strength for tomorrow," Burdick said. "That's a big part of it right now, what team is healthy? What team has all their runners not sick and not injured? We are in good shape."
There will also be four other individuals competing in the boys' D-II race in Drury's Connor Meehan, Hoosac Valley's Jared Haley, Lee's Sam Harding and Lenox's Connor McNinch.
In the girls' D-II race, Monument Mountain will have a pair of runners in Meryl Phair and Grace Phair.
In Division I, there will be no Berkshire boys racing, and for the girls Wahconah will have Kat Bruce and Gabrielle Orlando racing.