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  • Writer's pictureLJ VP LAFIURA

Cross-country takes stride forward

Junior Hanna Babek, sophomore Emily Varga, senior Adrianna Tassone, first-year Kat Kohtala, and junior Mikayla Bokis proceed away from the Lasers’ tent ahead of their fourth place finish. Photo courtesy of Matt Johnson

The Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) cross-country championship marked a big stride forward in the program’s development. On Saturday, Nov. 4 the men finished fifth and the women fourth, topping pre-race expectations and recent school history in Standish, Maine.

“This team came a long way from mid-August, put in a lot of hard work and it all paid off,” Head Coach Ben Biello said. “They blew our expectations (and the GNAC pre-champ polls) out of the water.”

Finishing fourth, the women’s side tallied 113 points, three points behind Norwich whose average finishing time was slower than the Lasers’ (30.21). This result was the best for the women since 2003. Sophomore Kiara Cerruti was the Lasers’ best finisher, placing second with a time of 25:59.7. First-year Kat Kohtala was close behind in 8th, finishing in 28:09.2.

“Going into the meet I knew that I was going to be one of the top runners and that it was anyone’s game for first place. The race felt like a constant battle for it,” Cerruti said. “Even though I ended up coming in second it was a good race and I was proud of myself for keeping a positive mindset which will help me in the future as well.”

For the men, first-year Wesley Thompson led a seven-year best effort, placing fifth with 130 points. This put them just ahead of Saint Joseph’s (CT) and within 10 points of Regis. Thompson finished 14th, a 30:51.9 minute run with senior Pat Carbone’s 31:23.3 minute time rounding out the Lasers’ stake in the top 20.

Sophomore Kiara Cerruti, first-year Katherine Kohtala and sophmore Emily Varga ahead of the GNAC championship race. Photo courtesy of Matt Johnson)

“It lit a fire in them that they can change the course of this team for years to come,” Biello said. “What’s very special is how young this team is, and for them to accomplish that so early in their journey together, it has strengthened their confidence in themselves. They know they can go accomplish whatever they set their sights on, all they need to do is stick together.”

The GNAC Championships were held at Saint Joseph’s (ME) track in Standish. The track is the most demanding the Lasers face each year, with a motto of “True cross country racing at its finest” according to Biello. The course features a combination of rolling foothills with very few flat stretches of consequential length.

“The hills just don’t stop, so it can get mentally exhausting,” Biello said. “There’s a lot of twists and turns in the trails as well, making it even more difficult to hold a consistent pace. This course mentally beats you down.”

The men and women previously ran here on Oct. 7 for the Runnin’ Monks XC Challenge. This experience along with their fluctuation training gave them a chance to strategize. “It’s just about getting out good, settling into a pretty good pace like the first three miles,” Thompson said. “That last mile is really the hardest mile you want to give it your all and finish hard.”

The cross-country program loses three seniors, Carbone on the men’s team, and Eftihia Fotos and Adrianna Tassone for the women’s. The group left behind includes six underclassmen on the women’s team, and eight on the men’s before considering any new recruits entering for the 2024-25 school year.

“There were times where we almost lost the team’s focus/commitment and had to reel it back in,” Biello said. “I think going forward, the athletes will realize how important it is to stay on task and they watched it all pay off. They want more.”

First-years Luke Bullock and Wesley Thompson and senior Pat Carbone warming up ahead of the championship meet in Standish, Maine. Photo courtesy of Matt Johnson

Those remaining for the 2024 season include the three athletes who received GNAC honors. Cerruti was given a place among the all-conference first team, while Kohtala and Thompson received all-conference second-team honors. Kohtala and Thompson were also joined by Tassone and Luke Bullock for the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Regionals. Thompson and Bullock finished 150th and 181st respectively, and Kohtala and Tassone finished 149th and 210th in the women’s competition.

“I think this will definitely carry over as long as we put in that work to keep up with that positive attitude and just keep showing up and getting better,” Thompson said.

This group will now move into the winter indoor track and field season. They hope the momentum of this success pulls them and the rest of their teammates forward as they head into the season with an opening meet on Saturday, Dec. 2.

“It has definitely motivated the track team to stay focused and continue working hard. They’ve already been training for 8 weeks at this point, without a meet, which is very demanding on its own to stay focused over that time,” Biello said. “It ignited that focus and motivation in them to keep hammering away at it, knowing we can do something big this year.”


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