Coe-Brown Academy of Northwood may be a small high school compared with others across the New England region, but in cross country the Bears have shown no fear on the big stage.
Particularly the girls’ team, which has a legitimate chance of winning the 79th annual New England High School Cross Country Championships on Saturday at Derryfield Park in Manchester. The girls’ race starts at 11:30 a.m. followed by the boys’ race at 12:30 p.m.
Two years ago the Coe-Brown girls finished third overall in the New England meet in North Scituate, R.I., and were runner-up last year in Cumberland, Maine. On Saturday, the Bears are looking forward to competing at Derryfield Park, on a course Coe-Brown co-coaches Tim Cox and Brent Tkaczyk both say their teams know like the back of their hand.
“Our teams have spent a considerable amount of time in Manchester,” said Tkaczyk. “We’re very comfortable and confident running on that course.” Cox said that, unlike the last two seasons, Coe-Brown runners will have the luxury of sleeping in their own beds before the big race.
“We’ll be well-rested and we won’t have to travel far,” said Cox. “Derryfield Park is our state championship course. We know it very well. We believe it gives us a slight advantage and we’re counting on it.”
The Coe-Brown girls, who have qualified for the New England meet seven straight seasons, just won their third straight Meet of Champions title at Nashua South last Saturday.
Leading the pack of Bears in that race was sophomore Elisabeth Danis (18:20.3, third place overall), followed by junior Hannah Parker (18:52.7, seventh), senior captain Jessie Carney (18:56.7, eighth), sophomore Brooke Laskowsky (19:09.5, ninth) and sophomore Meg Scannell (19:11.6, 11th). Junior Katie Scannell and senior Mary Fowler round out the talented squad, which is currently ranked fourth regionally in the latest poll released by DyeStat.
Coe-Brown, which has won the last four Division II girls’ state meets, placed six girls among the top 100 finishers in the New England event last year.
Danis led the group with a 17th-place finish (19:47.04) followed by Laskowsky (37th, 20:09.59), Parker (43rd, 20:15.58), Katie Scannell (62nd, 20:40.68), Meg Scannell (78th, 20:48.54) and Carney (98th, 21:05.37).
Defending New England champion Barrington R.I. recently lost its state meet to rival La Salle Academy, which is currently ranked 17th overall in the nation by Dyestat. The two Rhode Island schools and Champlain Valley, Vt., which Coe-Brown defeated twice this year, figure to be the Bears’ main threats on Saturday.
But one thing one can expect from the Bears is that they won’t be intimidated by the larger schools.
“I went to Conant of Jaffrey and grew up with a small school mentality,” said Tkaczyk. “The concept I try to teach our runners is simple. It’s not about the type of school, big or small, that you attend. In the end, each person in high school is the same. The common bond we all share is family and the support we get from family. Our team may represent a small school in Northwood, but we don’t feel we’re any different from someone running for a large school. Our runners love to compete and we try to get them to perform at the highest level.”
If there’s a runner-coach on the girls’ roster, it’s definitely Carney, who has lived up to her billing as captain.
“She’s kind of like the mother hen of the group,” said Cox. “She knows when and how to push the buttons on the team. Whether its practice or making sure everyone is prepared right up to race time, she takes care of every important detail. She has truly become the most effective captain we’ve had since I’ve been coaching the program.”
The boys’ team has qualified for the New England tournament for the first time since 2009 and is led by standouts Jeremy Brassard and Lucas Fisher. Last Saturday Brassard won his second straight Meet of Champions title in 15:50.0. Last year in the New England meet he finished 19th overall in 16:52.77.
“It’s been said cross country is a summer sport played out in the fall,” said Tkaczyk. “All of our runners put their work in during the summer months including Jeremy and Lucas. We always preach talent will only take you so far, but you still have to work at it. All our runners epitomize that, working as hard as anyone to be the best they can be.”