High school runners pick up the pace in preseason scrimmage meet
WILLIAMSTOWN -- The race didn't count for anything Saturday. Since it was a high school preseason scrimmage, Mount Greylock's cross country coaches weren't even allowed to keep team scores.
But for Lenox's Liz Jarck, the 4 kilometers meant everything.
"It's the greatest feeling," she said. "Not racing was really hard, but it's great to be back."
Jarck missed much of last season with inflamed hip joints and tendinitis in both hips. The Millionaire junior is healthy now, though, and ran against competition for the first time this year on Saturday.
Like everyone else on the course, she was just trying to get an idea of where she is -- or needs to be -- as the regular season approaches.
"I just started running in the beginning of the summer, and boosted my mileage," she said following the varsity girls race in 18 minutes, 35 seconds. "No pain so far but I'm really keeping my eye on it."
If Berkshire County's top male runners have any work to do, it didn't show. Four of the five fastest boys were from county schools, and the top four runners outran the previous best time on the course, a 13:25 set by former Lenox and current Georgetown runner Scott Carpenter in 2012.
Ace McAlister of Monument Mountain has the new fastest time, a 13:02. He was followed by Amherst's Connor Evans (13:08), Lenox's Tucker McNinch (13:13) and Greylock's Carter Stripp (13:20).
Stripp wasn't worried about his time following Saturday's race. Between practices and early regular season meets -- the Mounties run at home in each of the first two weeks -- he'll have plenty of time to bring his times down.
"I want to see how I compare to the other guys; to see how their summer training went compared to mine," he said. "I love this race, because it doesn't count for everything, but it's a good way to see where everyone is."
South Hadley's Serena Savage won the girls varsity race in 16:37. Monument Mountain's Meryl Phair was the top Berkshire County girl, taking third in 17:36.
The Spartans come into the 2014 schedule having reached the Division II state meet in each of the last two seasons. That's been a big boost for coach Chris Unsworth's squad, in terms of both confidence and participation.
"When you see the talent that's up there [in the postseason], you get a little taken aback, but those same runners had their best races that year," Unsworth said. "They rose to the competition, and they saw what they could get from themselves.
"I see some different confidence levels this year, especially from some of the freshmen and sophomores from last year."
Lenox also returns a number of talented underclassmen to a girls squad that reached the state meet in 2013. With no seniors, it's up to junior co-captains Jarck, Emily Tibbetts and Grace Ellrodt to help guide the young, talented squad.
"We show them the ropes, how to race, tips and stuff," Jarck said. "Since I've been racing since seventh grade, I share my knowledge with them, and hopefully I lead them in the right direction."
Lee also has youth on its side, in both the boys' and girls' ranks, but the experience isn't yet there for the second-year varsity program. With that in mind, coach Art Reilly just wanted his young runners to have fun on the course Saturday. Many of Lee's runners participated in the junior varsity races.
"The kids that are here for us, most of them have never seen a race," Reilly said. "[Freshman] Michael Comalli has never seen a cross country race. Five minutes before the race, we said, ‘You're lining up. Let's go.' Off he went, and he did wonderful."
Runners who put in plenty of offseason miles, of course, fared well Saturday. Reilly, though, has actively recruited runners, and many of them are fresh from the hallways and don't have the running experience of the Berkshires' top runners.
"Those kids ... it takes them two to four weeks just to see the benefit of the training they're doing," the coach said. "Once they get some of those benefits, they see improvement. That's when they really wake up and see the fun in the sport."