NHIAA Cross Country Meet of Champions: Brassard outkicks field
Winnacunnet senior Alexa Palletier wins the girls' race during the NHIAA Cross Country Meet of Champions at Nashua High South on Saturday. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)
NASHUA - This cross country race was won at track practice, six months ago.
Reigning Division II 1600-meter run champion Jeremy Brassard of Coe-Brown Northwood Academy exploded over the final 400 meters to outkick three rivals and win the annual Meet of Champions boys' 5K cross country race on the Mine Falls course here on Saturday.
In the girls' competition, Lexi Pelletier of Hampton's Winnacunnet, who was sidelined by a stress fracture through the championship season a year ago, shed a self-proclaimed dark horse label to win girls' honors by more than 15 seconds.
The boys' race tested the closing strengths of four standout harriers.
Brassard, who won the Division II cross country individual crown a week ago, accelerated past Bedford's Sam Daly, Bow's Andrew Weckstein (the 2011 D-III champion) and D-I champion B.J. Smith of Concord to lead the field to the chute in 15:46.1. Daly, who led with 50 meters to run, finished in 15:49.1 while Weckstein and Smith posted times of 15:54.4 and 15:56.8 respectively.
The four ran much of the race off one another's shoulders.
"I knew BJ (Smith) and Jeremy (Brassard) have the kick," said Daly, "so I figured I better get going before they start."
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The ploy gave Daly a brief advantage, but track standout Brassard was not to be denied in his bid to sweep the division and MOC titles.
"There was a little bit of panic," Brassard admitted, "but I was more excited about the upcoming kick. It was the key to the race, and I train for a kick in track. That had a huge influence in my winning the race."
A strong wind denied the runners the possibility of exceptional times, so the four frontrunners maintained pace throughout the race, only breaking ranks as the finish line neared.
"I was expecting surges that never really came," said the race winner. "They just kept pushing on my shoulders."
Daly noted, "No one spoke, but I think we all knew to stay together because of the wind. But in the back of my mind, I knew Jeremy and BJ have the best kicks in New Hampshire. I thought I had it, but Jeremy just busted over the hill (120 meters from the finish)."
"I train to win, not to finish second," said Brassard. "The New Hampshire competition is unbelievable. In the last 400 meters, I never expected the four of us to be that tight."
Pelletier needed only to remain consistent to win as she broke from the field after two miles and stretched her advantage to an 18:15.6 finish. Runnerup Elizabeth Conway of Manchester Central, the two-time D-I champion, posted an 18:32.9.
"It was during the woods that I took over, and I just kicked it the rest of the way," said Pelletier who admitted she was surprised by her margin of victory. She has run cross country for only two seasons.
The race featured a 15-person pack through the initial half mile that created a bit of boxing and difficult running. But as the pack began to thin, Conway moved to the front.
"I had a really bad start, in the thick of the pack, like 20's pack," said Conway. "I never really got a substantial lead, and then Lexi took over. I tried to go, but it just didn't happen. That's racing."
Sophomore Shannon Murdock of Exeter and freshman Elisabeth Danis of Coe-Brown battled for third place. Murdock posted an 18:39.9 while Danis came across in 18:40.7.
Though no single overall state team champion is declared in cross country, the D-II champion Coe-Brown girls won their race for the second consecutive year with a low point total of 66. No other girls' team scored under 100 points. The young Black Bears received top 15 finishes from Danis, sophomore Katie Scannell, freshman Brooke Laskowsky and sophomore Hannah Parker, the D-II individual champion.
The top 25 individuals and top six teams in each race qualify for the New England Championships which will be held Saturday at Twin Brook Recreation Area in Cumberland, Maine.
Representing the Granite State are girls' teams Coe-Brown, Londonderry, Bedford, Bishop Guertin of Nashua, Manchester Central and Hollis/Brookline. The boys' team qualifiers are Souhegan of Amherst, Bedford, Oyster River of Durham, Pinkerton of Derry, Londonderry and Penacook's Merrimack Valley.