Tucker McNinch doesn't run in the shadow of anyone these days. He is his own guy. On the cross country course, he is his own champion, too.

No longer the second scorer to Scott Carpenter, McNinch became Lenox's star in 2013, leading the way for the Millionaires and earning the Western Mass. Division II championship.

He also earned the All-Eagle cross country MVP award.

If McNinch felt any pressure becoming the Millionaires' No. 1 runner, it didn't show. He said he embraced the pressure from the start.

"It was a good feeling to be the guy," McNinch said. "It was a new feeling, and it was pretty great."

He also said he harnessed that pressure and put it into his miles on the courses. That made him Berkshire County's best runner, which was not an easy task given the strength in this year's junior class.

McNinch was pushed in practice by fellow All-Eagle selections Sam Darbey and Ben Herrick, and in county races by junior runners like Hoosac Valley's Travis Ciempa, Mount Greylock's Carter Stripp and others.

"I think he knew that this year was going to be an important year for him," Lenox coach Jeanne Teasdale said. "He wanted to step up, particularly in the state. Winning Western Mass. was one of his goals."

He accomplished that goal, running the Northfield course in 16 minutes, 56 seconds.

McNinch has states in his sights for next season, as well as more consistency in his splits. He thought he often went out harder than he should.

"I'd run a 4:50 first mile and drop to a 5:40 second mile," he said. "I'd have the adrenaline pumping. ... I [wouldn't] be able to hold my pace as long as I thought I could."

McNinch is looking at colleges, but he doesn't have any choices narrowed down. He's hoping to run in a warmer climate, so he might follow Carpenter's lead -- Carpenter now runs at Georgetown -- and head south.

Before that, he's got another fall of tough tests ahead of him.

"It's crazy. We have three guys here that could contend for a state title, really, next year," McNinch said. "I was the No. 2 junior at states, Travis was No. 3 and Carter wasn't that far behind. It's going to make us all work harder, and really make us better in the process."

To reach Matthew Sprague:
msprague@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6254.
On Twitter: @BE_MSprague.