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With one race to go, Robitaille, Gaughan may be the two best ever in NH

New Hampshire Union Leader

November 27. 2017 9:55PM
Exeter's Jackie Gaughan, left, and Manchester West's Julia Robitaille will compete in national cross-country events over the next two weeks (THOMAS ROY/UNION LEADER)

After earning a number of accolades and first-place finishes this cross-country season, Julia Robitaille and Jackie Gaughan each have one final race to prepare for.

Robitaille, a junior at Manchester West, and Gaughan, a senior at Exeter, will represent the Granite State in different national meets over the next few weeks.

Robitaille has qualified for the Nike Cross Nationals at Glendoveer Golf Course in Portland, Ore., which will take place Saturday. She earned her spot in the national meet after winning the Nike Cross Northeast Regional Championships last Saturday with her time of 18 minutes, 25.2 seconds.

Robitaille’s victory marked the first time a Manchester West runner has ever won a regional title. She is the first New Hampshire runner to win a regional championship since Hanover’s Georgia Griffin did so in 2007.

Gaughan, who has committed to Notre Dame, took third at the Foot Locker Northeast Regional last Saturday with her time of 17:54.7. Gaughan’s time qualified her for the Foot Locker Cross Country National Championships at Balboa Park in San Diego on Dec. 9.

“Julia and Jackie may be the two best runners the state has ever seen and we’ve had some great runners,” Manchester West coach Leo Ducharme said.

The Foot Locker Cross Country National Championships, which features the top 10 runners from the Midwest, South, Northeast and West regionals, is the longest running national meet for high school athletes.

The Nike Cross Nationals, an invitational that crowns both team and individual champions, has never had an individual winner from New England in either the boys’ or girls’ race since it began in 2004.

Gaughan, who has won the NHIAA Division I title each of the last three years, will return to Balboa Park for the second straight season. She placed 11th, earning third-team All-America honors, with a time of 17:50.6 last year.

“She’s familiar with the course, the venue and all the activities that take place out there, which is important to be familiar with the setting,” Exeter coach Joe Scascitelli said.

Gaughan won both the D-I and NHIAA Meet of Champions titles before placing sixth at the New England Cross Country Championships Nov. 18 with a time of 18:06.5. Robitaille, who won the NHIAA Division II title earlier this season, became the first Blue Knights runner to win the New England meet when she took the crown that day with a time of 17:31.65.

While they don’t race against each other often, Robitaille said seeing Gaughan’s times throughout each season motivates her.

“It’s inspiring to have someone from New Hampshire to run that fast and to look up to,” Robitaille said. “It pushes both of us to run faster.”

Robitaille and Ducharme have already watched video of Glendoveer Golf Course to get an idea of what to expect at the meet. Ducharme said the course shares some characteristics with both Derryfield Park in Manchester and Mine Falls Park in Nashua. He credited Robitaille for always finding similarities to courses she is familiar with when preparing to run a new one.

Gaughan will look to improve on last year’s 11th-place finish and earn first or second-team All-America honors when she runs the Balboa Park course again Dec. 9, Scascitelli said.

Scascitelli said he thinks the fact Robitaille and Gaughan are both competing in national meets is great for the New Hampshire cross-country scene.

“There are so many great coaches in the state right now so the competition keeps getting better and better each year,” Scascitelli said. “The talent has always been there. It’s just more dense now than ever before.”

Manchester Exeter