Vin Sylvia: Coe-Brown girls celebrate New England team title
MANCHESTER -- Hannah Parker hadn't been at her best.
Her team, Coe-Brown Northwood Academy, was aiming for a regional title after finishing third in the New England Interscholastic Cross Country Championships in 2011 and second in 2012, and Parker, the 2012 New Hampshire Girls' Outdoor Track and Field Athlete of the Year, was feeling the pressure.
It got to her in the state Division II meet, when she collapsed at the finish after placing fourth at Manchester's Derryfield Park, in 19 minutes 11 seconds, and it affected her last week in the Meet of Champions at Nashua's Mine Falls Park, where she placed seventh overall.
But in the days leading up to Saturday's New Englands and a return to Derryfield Park, Parker remembered something about cross country that many people don't fully understand: It's a team sport.
"This time, I didn't let anxiety get the better of me," Parker, a junior, said after leading Coe-Brown to that much-anticipated New England championship. "I knew that no matter how I ran, my teammates were going to be there for me.
"Really, we all just had to do our jobs, and if we did that, we were going to win. And I knew I could count on my teammates to do their jobs."
Two weeks after ending the division race "in the dirt" as Coe-Brown co-head coach Tim Cox put it, Parker breezed across Derryfield's finish line with a time almost a minute faster, 18:16, good for ninth overall, first among New Hampshire entrants and fifth among team-affiliated competitors.
(Runners whose teams hadn't qualified for the New Englands but who individually had finished among the top 25 in their state meets also were eligible for the regional.)
Sophomore Elisabeth Danis, Coe-Brown's lead runner in the division race and the Meet of Champions, this time followed Parker, finishing 15th overall while taking 10 seconds off her time in the Division II meet.
In fact, all five Coe-Brown scorers established personal bests for Derryfield's 5-kilometer (3.1-mile course) - Parker, Danis (18:21), senior captain Jessie Carney (18:35, 24th), and sophomores Brooke Laskowsky (18:51, 32nd) and Meg Scannell (19:15, 55th). The Bears' combined time of 1:33:20 enabled them to unseat 2012 New England champion Barrington, R.I., which totaled 1:33:50.
"I never dreamed they'd all run this well," said Cox. "When you plan and train, you want everyone racing their best at the end of the year, but to have it turn out just the way we planned is beyond our wildest expectations."
La Salle Academy of Providence, which had beaten out Barrington for the state title, this time finished a few seconds behind its Rhode Island rival, in 1:33:54. Two other New Hampshire teams joined Coe-Brown in the top 10: Bishop Guertin of Nashua in seventh place, Pinkerton Academy of Derry in ninth.
"Having those Rhode Island teams coming up to a hilly course here in New Hampshire we knew would be to our advantage," said Cox, with co-coach Brent Tkaczyk adding, "This was our second time running here in three weeks, and that was a huge advantage for us."
Individually, Hannah Debalsi, a sophomore from Staples High School of Westport, Conn., led the 264-runner field in 17:15.8 - 12.2 seconds faster than the best time ever by a New Hampshire runner at Derryfield (17:28.0, by Hanover's Georgia Griffin in 2007) and almost 24 seconds ahead of the runner-up, senior Claire Howlett of Westhill High in Stamford, Conn. Another sophomore, Maegan Doody, was second to Parker among New Hampshire runners, finishing in 18:18.
In the boys' race, La Salle took the team title while Trevor Hopper of Ridgefield, Conn. earned top individual honors, with a time of 15:08.5, seven-tenths off the New Hampshire record set by Bishop Guertin's Jeff LaCoste in 2010. Oyster River High of Durham was the top Granite State team 13th) while state champion Jeremy Brassard of Coe-Brown was the top New Hampshire individual, placing 10th in 15:48.
After the girls' race, Coe-Brown captain Carney credited her boys' team counterpart Brassard with verbalizing the philosophy that helped carry her and Parker and the rest of the Bears to the regional title.
"I don't know if these were his exact words, but basically what he said was that the goals most worth achieving are the ones bigger than just for yourself," she said. "This is a team sport, a tough sport. When you're feeling pain and it might be tempting to stop, that's when doing it for yourself isn't enough. That's when the goal has to be bigger than the self."
Cox said Carney is likely to be her graduating class' valedictorian, and it's easy to see why. He also said that on an exceedingly close team, the captain is one of the more reserved members, but there was nothing reserved about the feelings she expressed after Saturday's victory.
"I love this team," she said. "I've been running cross country for four years, and I love the other girls I've run with, too, but this is the closest team I've ever been on."
Parker was feeling the love, as well.
"I love this team so much, and I'm so happy for Jessie," she said. "This is her last year, and I'm so happy she gets to end the cross country season this way."
Vin Sylvia is a New Hampshire Union Leader deputy managing editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.