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Cross Country: Robitaille's success no surprise

New Hampshire Union Leader

November 18. 2017 12:29AM
Manchester West junior Julia Robitaille, shown winning the Division II championship at Derryfield Park in Manchester last month, won the New England championships last Saturday. (THOMAS ROY/UNION LEADER)

When Manchester West cross country coach Leo Ducharme watched Julia Robitaille cross the finish line at the New England Cross Country Championships last Saturday, he felt a rush of several emotions.

Surprise was not one of them.

Robitaille became the first Blue Knights runner to win a New England individual title after earning a first-place time of 17 minutes, 31.65 seconds on the Troy Howard Middle School course in Belfast, Maine.

“My immediate reaction was pride,” Ducharme said. “I knew she could do it.”

Robitaille, a junior, came into the New England meet fresh off a pair of top-two finishes.

Robitaille finished second to Exeter senior Jackie Gaughan at the NHIAA Meet of Champions on Nov. 4. One week before that, Robitaille became the first West runner to win the NHIAA Division II individual title, earning a time of 17:52.5 at Derryfield Park in Manchester.

Heading into the New England meet, Robitaille and Ducharme decided it would be best for Robitaille to try to keep pace with top runners like Gaughan throughout the race. After making a few early moves out of the gate, Robitaille found herself running with the front pack. Around the two-mile mark, Robitaille made another move to take the lead.

“I felt good at that point,” Robitaille said. “I realized I actually had a chance to win so I took off from there hoping to get to the finish first.”

During the final stretch toward the finish, Robitaille felt South Kingstown (R.I.) senior Eleanor Lawler on her shoulder. Lawler finished with a runner-up time of 17:40.55, nearly nine seconds behind Robitaille.

“When I finished, there was a moment of disbelief because I never imagined I could have placed first at New Englands,” Robitaille said.

After catching her breath and taking a minute to enjoy her victory, Robitaille turned her attention back to the finish line. She was eager to see what place her identical twin sister, Corinne, would finish in. Corinne took 25th overall with a time of 18:45.82 and was the 10th runner from New Hampshire to cross the finish line.

Gaughan, who won the New England title last year, placed sixth overall with a time of 18:06.5 and was the second New Hampshire runner to finish.

Ducharme said he was happy to see Robitaille rewarded for all of the training she puts in both during practice and on her own time.

“Some runners, after practice, they’re done,” Ducharme said. “Julia is never done. She’s always trying to make herself better.”

With the New England meet behind them, Ducharme and Robitaille are preparing for the Nike Cross Nationals Northeast Regional on Nov. 25 at Bowdoin Park in Wappingers Falls, N.Y. Robitaille took seventh at the meet last year and fell just shy of qualifying for Nike’s national meet in Portland, Ore.

Ducharme is confident Robitaille can place among the top five at the regional championships, which would earn her an automatic bid to Portland.

“That’s the goal,” Ducharme said. “Place and go to Portland.”

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