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NHIAA Cross Country: Lancers hoping to make their own mark

New Hampshire Union Leader

September 20. 2018 11:10PM

Londonderry High's Matt Griffin warms up during practice on Wednesday. (THOMAS ROY/UNION LEADER)

LONDONDERRY  --- Londonderry High School boys’ cross-country coach Matt Smith does not need to teach his runners about the program’s past achievements.

The Lancers are keenly aware of the heights the program has reached and are determined to place their squad alongside past championship teams.

The Londonderry boys have won seven state championships (1981, 1983, 1992, 1993, 1999, 2002, 2004) and three New England championships (1995, 1996, 1999).

The Lancers finished third at last year’s Division I meet, behind champion Concord and runner-up Pinkerton Academy of Derry.

“They want their group to be mentioned in the same breath as those guys who won division titles, Class L titles, New England titles,” said Smith, who is in his 10th year leading the Lancers. “They want to join that group.”

Smith, who ran for Londonderry in high school and graduated in 2000, said his runners like to compare their times on certain courses with Lancers alumni.

“It just motivates us,” Londonderry sophomore Matt Griffin said before the team’s practice at the high school Wednesday. “We’re very competitive runners and we just want to be the best that we can be and if we train hard and follow what coach Smith tells us to do, we know that we can accomplish those.”

While it is early in the season, the Lancers have showcased their talent and depth against strong competition.

Londonderry defeated both archrival Pinkerton and Exeter in a tri-meet on Sept. 4, with five Lancers finishing among the top six. The Lancers also cruised to a tri-meet victory over Dover and Alvirne of Hudson and finished runner-up to Concord at the Nashua North Invitational last Saturday.

Smith said his runners want to finish in the top two at the Division I Championships and place among the top 10 at New Englands this year. Looking ahead, the Lancers want to compete for a division title, finish on the podium at New Englands and be one of the better teams at the Nike Cross Northeast Regionals over the next couple years, Smith said.

They are lofty but achievable aspirations, Smith said.

“We’ve always known it but they’re just a super competitive and really driven group,” Smith said. “They set high goals for themselves and really are not afraid to go after it and do whatever they have to do make it happen. We (coaches) feel like sometimes we have to almost hold them back from going overboard because they’re so willing to do every little bit to achieve the goals they set for themselves.”

Londonderry has a healthy blend of young talent and experienced harriers like seniors Eric Nowak, Ben Palumbo and Kyle Hoglund. Smith said about two-thirds of the Lancers’ roster are underclassmen. The underclassman group is highlighted by a sophomore class that includes Griffin, who Smith said can be a top-10 or top-five runner in the division this year, Will Heenan and Ryan Young.

“A lot of our guys really stepped it up over the summer and really rose to the occasion so now we’ve got a big pack of guys that are all together and training every day,” Nowak said. “In the races, we’re all finishing around the same time — like within the same minute — and I think that really helps us out.”

The Lancers will get another look at divisional foes like Concord and Pinkerton and schools from around New England at the Manchester Invitational on Saturday. The invitational course, Derryfield Park, is where the New England Championships will be held this year.

“We want to continue to beat the teams we have, close the gap with Concord a little bit and see how we stack up with what should be a very good, strong field,” Smith said.

Dethroning Concord at the Division I Championships will be a challenge but that only adds to the Lancers’ motivation. Smith has also discussed his big-picture goals for the program that go beyond this season with his runners, which they have bought into, he said.

“With the boys willing to put the time in, put the effort in and do all the little things, we’re going to get better and continue to improve, get stronger and find success,” Smith said.

Cross Country