NORTHFIELD — Zach Gordon joined two family members on the winner's list at the Western Mass. cross country championships, earning a trophy to put alongside his father's and uncle's. Steve Ferro, the lone elite athlete in his family, created the need for a trophy case in his home. Gordon, a senior from Pittsfield, and Ferro, a senior at Hoosac Valley, both won individual titles at Northfield Mountain's 3.1-mile course yesterday. Gordon took the Division 1 race in 16:39, while Ferro beat out a pair of Berkshire County rivals for the Division 2 title in 17:27. Mount Greylock won the Division 2 team title, completing an exquisite day for the Berkshire County contingent.
Gordon might have gotten as much exercise after he finished his race as he did during it.
The senior was constantly turning to shake another hand, offer another hug and receive another pat on the back. As his name was announced as the winner, Gordon's extended family clapped frantically behind the Pittsfield team. Among them were both former winners in the Gordon clan.
"I can't count them all," said Gordon, who still spent a few futile moments trying. "My mother, my father, my step-mother, my grandfather. There's a lot that came to support me. My father and uncle both stopped to congratulate me."
Gordon's father, Brad, a co-coach at Pittsfield, won an individual title with Amherst in 1979. His uncle, Josh, won his crown with Amherst in 1991. Yesterday, Zach Gordon lived up to the family tradition by beating second-place Mike Sullivan, of Westfield, by 12 seconds.
"It brought up memories of watching my brother more than it did doing it myself," Brad Gordon said. "You're more excited and nervous for a family member than you are for yourself. He worked so hard for this. You want to see him rewarded."
Wahconah's Joel Kropinski was the only other county runner to place in the top 10 in Division 1, placing 10th in 17:19, a time that would have placed him first in Division 2.
The win capped a methodical climb to the top of the Western Mass. running circuit for Gordon. He finished 15th in the state meet as a freshman, fifth as a sophomore and fourth last year.
Gordon counts his father as one of his main influences in that ascent, but most of that impact has come in the last three years.
"I made running somewhat taboo in our house when he was younger," Brad Gordon said. "I don't think starting early is healthy. When he started as a freshman, I was a little worried that he might not like it, but he just intuitively took to it."
Zach Gordon handled his final sectional championship like a veteran.
In his last two trips to Western Mass., Gordon had burned out early, trying to blaze a blistering time. This year, he waited until his competitors cracked and patiently earned his victory.
He hung alongside Westfield's Mike Sullivan into the third mile, then sprinted away from him late.
"I didn't want to go out too hard," Gordon said. "I wanted to hang back. When I knew the guy was dying, I went. I'm a stronger runner this year. It's a combination of growing and working harder."
|» The highlights|
1. Zach Gordon, Pittsfield, 16:39
2. Mike Sullivan, Westfield, 16:51
3. Paul Norton, Amherst, 17:05
4. Davis Johnson, Ludlow, 17:08
5. Gihan Amarasiriwardena, Amherst, 17:12
1. Ludlow 42
2. Amherst 47
3. Longmeadow 115
1. Steve Ferro, Hoosac Valley, 17:27
2. Nick Fogel, Mount Greylock, 17:55
3. Evan Dethier, Mount Greylock, 17:56
4. Mitch Beauchemin, Hoosac Valley, 18:02
5. Daniel Reinhart, Lenox, 18:07
1. Mount Greylock 50
2. Mohawk 67
3. Lenox 129
Ferro's win followed a similar pattern. He stayed with defending champion Nate Kehoe of Mohawk early in the race, fell behind on the course's largest hill and picked up his pace when he heard Kehoe straining with a cramp at the two-mile mark. He beat second-place Nick Fogel, of Mount Greylock, by nine seconds. Kehoe faded to ninth.
"I heard him yell out and I knew I had to push it," Ferro said. "You've got to make surges at the right times."
While Ferro, a runner who admits to having a masochistic streak and loving hilly courses, punished Kehoe during the race, he'll dole out an additional dose to coach Ron Namislo on Monday.
Thanks to a bet the pair made a week ago, Namislo will shave his beard completely for the first time in 29 years on Monday. Ferro had wagered his leg hair that he would finish first or second. Namislo's beard would disappear only if Ferro won.
"He asked me what I'd do if he won. I said I'd be really happy," Namislo said. "Then he said 'No. What will you really do?' He wanted me to shave it all year. If that's what gave him the extra push, that's fine."
Ferro, who played football his freshman year and fortuitously fell into cross country after joining the track team that spring, used his second-place finish last year as a springboard.
"I knew I had it in me after last year," Ferro said. "I just stumbled into running. I'm glad I did. It's worked out pretty well."
Placing just behind Ferro were two rivals from Greylock — Fogel and Evan Dethier. Fogel finished second and Dethier placed third, and Berkshire County swept the first five spots and seven of the first 10.
Hoosac's Mitch Beauchemin (fourth), Lenox's Dan Reinhart (fifth) Greylock's Zach Yarter (seventh) and Hoosac's Doug Rosenthal (10th) also placed in the top 10.
Reinhart's finish helped the Millionaires surprise the Division 2 field and qualify for the state tournament as a team after a third-place finish. Despite losing the Southern Division to Hoosac Valley during the season, Lenox knocked them off when it mattered most. The Millionaires edged the Hurricanes by seven points.
The most consistent performers of the afternoon, however, were the Mounties, who repeated as team champions for the first time since 1990-91 with a 50-67 win over second-place Mohawk.
Greylock won last year's title with a stacked team that included four seniors. This year the Mounties weren't even considered a cinch for a county championship.
Fogel and Dethier, who ran the first portion of the race with Ferro and Kehoe, picked off the struggling Kehoe late in the race to lock up spots in the top three.
"Last year we were expected to win so it would have been a disappointment to lose," Fogel said. "This year we weren't expected to win the county."
"It's nice to go out with a bang," added Dethier, Greylock's lone senior. "This is what we worked for all year."
Greylock's dynamic duo led the way, but Zach Yarter's seventh-place finish stood out most. Last year, the Mounties got a season-best performance from senior Seth Kelley to lead the Mounties to a team title. This year, it was Yarter who found some magic in the season's biggest moment.
Patrick Joslin (17th) and William Alimonos (24th) rounded out the Mounties scoring.
"Evan and Nick are money in the bank," Greylock coach Scott Burdick said. "When you win a team title, you always get a big performance from someone and that was Zach. I won't say I'm surprised because I've been expecting this all season. Let's just say I'm finally satisfied."