MANCHESTER - Let the cross country season begin.
"It's time to get down and get serious," said Liz Danis, a sophomore at Coe-Brown Academy in Northwood.
"The season really gets started today," said Tim Cox, the Coe-Brown co-coach with Brent Tkaczyk. "We're ahead of schedule on the boys' side and right on schedule on the girls. It's good stuff. . . . But we're not ready for championship season yet."
Stress the yet. Coe-Brown may not be ready for NHIAA state meets at the moment, but Danis and the Bears were looking mighty good Saturday on the way to winning their first elite girls' division title at the 39th annual Manchester Cross Country Invitational at Derryfield Park.
Danis finished third and junior Hannah Parker, adjusting to the 3.1-mile cross country distance after a standout season while focusing on the 800-meter run in track, was sixth to lead Coe-Brown.
Autumn Eastman, a senior out of Champlain Valley High School in Hinesburg, Vt., won the elite race in a time of 17:50 and Maegan Doody, a sophomore out of Oyster River in Durham, finished second in 18:35.
It was glorious day for running at Derryfield and the elite, small and large school divisions alone - there were also junior varsity and freshmen races - drew just under 1,000 of New England's best runners. Many were getting a taste of the course with the intention of returning here on Nov. 9 for the New England championships.
"Perfect weather, huge crowd," said Manchester Central coach and co-race director Coby Jacobus. "It was a great day. The Coe-Brown girls are definitely one of the best teams in New England. The boys' small school race was especially impressive."
In that one, Dan Curts, a senior out of Ellsworth, Maine, and Jose Holt-Andrews, a senior out of Telstar High School in Bethel, Maine, were first and second in two of the four fastest times ever at the Invitational.
Curts finished in 15:23, six seconds off the record of 15:17 that Ben True, who went on to star at Dartmouth College, set while running for Greely High School of Cumberland, Maine, in 2003. Curts now owns the second fastest time.
Holt-Andrews had a time of 15:27 on Saturday, just behind the 15:25 that Francis Hernandez of Bishop Guertin of Nashua ran in 2009.
Winnacunnet of Hampton senior Justin Trott won the boys large school race in 16:06 and Chris Skelly of North Middlesex in Massachusetts was next in 16:12. Exeter sophomore Justin Carbone was third in 16:16, Bedford senior Tristam Winship was fourth in 16:26 and Manchester Central junior Abram Gagnon was one second back in fifth.
The Nashua South boys won the large school division and Bedford was second.
Hollis/Brookline senior Emma Newton won the girls large school race in 18:55, Katherine Cook of South Burlington, Vt., was runner-up and Exeter junior Shannon Murdock was third.
Winnacunnet was the top girls' large school team, followed by St. Johnsbury Academy of Vermont and Concord High School. Fergus Cullen, Doody's coach at Oyster River, was happy with the day even before his team pulled down a seventh-place finish in its first attempt in the elite race. "We talked about it and it was a question of trying to win the small school division or challenging ourselves in the elite race," Cullen said. "The girls didn't hesitate at all. Even though we were a little over our head, I knew we could compete. And I know Maegan can run with anybody."
Cullen gave props to Coe-Brown, too.
"Obviously they're the top team in New Hampshire," he said. "They're in a class by themselves."
Danis said she loves the way she and Parker and the rest of the Bears work together.
Cox loved the uphill surge Danis made on an early loop.
"There was a girl in red in front of me and one of the coaches was yelling to get the girl in red," Danis said with a smile. "It felt good to pass her. At least it felt as good as it gets going uphill."
It was one more piece to a very pleasant day at Derryfield.
"This is just phenomenal," Cox said. "I think there are like 136 teams here. What other sport competes with 136 teams in a span of six hours? This is a great day for people who love our sport."