By Mike Smith
Trying to figure out what to expect at the end of a track and field season based on the results from a year previous is difficult, never mind when the previous season that wasn’t due to a pandemic. For distance races we can look to the cross country season to gain some insight, but without a recent indoor season to work off of, the rest of the fields are a bit of a mystery. Throw in smaller fields at the Championships and regional schedules and less FAT timing, along with the potential for athletes or teams not being available come championship time (like Berlin this fall) what to expect in two months is only a guess. So rather than try to guess what to expect this season, I’d prefer to highlight the things I’m looking forward to.
Two years ago, Janiah Young of Stevens ran roughshod over the rest of the 100 and 200 meter fields. Supposing I was to wager on a sprinter to finish high in the standings, I would have to go with Young. Of course though, back in 2019 I wouldn’t have known to bet on Young, so it’s possible the top sprinter might be someone we haven’t seen compete at the high school level.
100 Meter Hurdles! With a full year of track and field gone, essentially graduating two classes since last championships, we still have 11 of the initial 16 qualifiers from the 2019 season. Which means the competition should be fierce for those top six scoring spots.
Girls Long Jump will feature a full slate of competitors to never have scored in the event at the high school level in a championship format. The top six scoring positions from 2019 have all graduated so we’ll really be looking at the youth of the 2018 and 2019 campaigns take control of the event.
In 2019 Newfound swept the top three spots in shot put, a feat that probably has never happened before. Even with the year hiatus from the championships, Newfound has the top two putters on paper from 2019 in now senior Oceanne Skoog and junior Pauline Huckins (what a great last name for a shot putter!). I expect the dynamic duo to be at the top of the field in 2021.
I tend to refrain from highlighting relays as the makeup of a relay team with team championships on the line and individual ambitions as well, but I am excited by the prospect of the PCA 4×800 team. In 2018, the Eagles came within less than a second of breaking the D3 record. Liza Corso was a freshman on that team and it’s safe to say she’s gotten better in the interim. Add in Brianna Malone to the lineup along with Lily Kjendal from the 2018 team, you have a really strong three. Find a 400 meter runner you can train up or a miler you can train down and I think the record could be gone but ONLY IF PCA ELECTS TO DO SO.
Which brings me to girls distance. As a cross country guy I tend to have an eye towards distance and if you do then you know Corso and Malone are among the best distance runners in New Hampshire and likely New England. What will they do? Will they choose to avoid each other to clear the way for individual titles or will the band up seeking points? Either way it will be interesting to see how that plays out.
And finally the team competition. With 18 events, no indoor to go off of and more than a year in between track and field seasons, choosing a winner is a gamble. I will go out on a limb and say there will be a new team champion crowned but that’s due to Kearsarge moving up to the D2 ranks. InterLakes is the top returning team but this year that might not mean much.
But an interesting prospect does surface as well. What if PCA was to look at trying to clean up all the distance races in an effort to win the championships outright? They have no other individuals returning other than Corso but what if they elected to clean up in the 800, 1600 and 3200, plus simply win the 4×800? That would be 64 points and would have been a clear second in 2019. Makes for an interesting concept.
Unlike with the girls sprints, the top returning finisher in the 100, Franklin’s Samuel Tuck finished third after qualifying for the final with the fifth fastest time. The only other returner from the final is White Mountains Forest Pribbernow who qualified in eighth for the final and finished eighth as well, leaving the door wide open in the 100
Interestingly the strongest returner in the 200 is Monadnock’s Harry Ryan. Ryan won the 400 in 2019 and one would think that he would be running and hoping to dominate these two events. However, one would be overlooking his cross country performance this past fall and it might be that Ryan is moving up.
Speaking of moving up, there are only three returners in the 800 and only two in the 1600, which would make it seem they are ripe for the picking. However without a 2020 season, I feel there has already been a natural shuffling that has occurred and we’ll see plenty of familiar faces running these events where they might not have in 2019. Which brings us to…
The battle of two of the best true distance runners in the state. Mascenic’s Landen Vaillancourt looks to leave his high school career on a high note. His performance in track however has not matched his supremacy at cross country, finishing fourth at D3’s two years ago in an effort to dethrone Jeffrey Allen in the 3200. However the blemish on his track career could be best summed up in the loss of track in 2019. Splitting time as a sophomore between track and baseball and no 2019 season, Vaillancourt has been blanked not because of ability but opportunity. This could be the case again, as Gilford’s Patrick Gandini has taken the appropriate steps forward to step to the D3 distance throne. Throw in Tyler Hebert and Harry Ryan of Monadnock and this season should be an interesting one at the front of the D3 distance ranks.
In all the jumping events, the top six scoring athletes have all graduated with the exception of Belmont’s Bryce Hall, who tied for 6th in the high jump in 2019. The throws aren’t quite as upperclassmen-heavy, top returners for throws are sixth placer Mascenic’s Gabe Turner in shot put, fifth placer Portsmouth Christian’s Cameron Pierce in discus and Newport’s fifth placer Marius Edwards in javelin.
As for relays and team championships I really have no idea what to expect. With Kearsarge in D2, I know there will be a new team champion, but who? 2019 second place Campbell has graduated a ton of their point scorers as has Trinity. Could it be 2019 fourth placer White Mountains or Monadnock riding the wave of their cross country championship? Or a team that gets lots of points from athletes that have yet to don a high school uniform? We’ll find out (hopefully!).