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Athlete of the Month: Exeter's Gaughan left foes in the dust

New Hampshire Union Leader

December 27. 2016 8:35PM

Exeter High's Jackie Gaughan competes in the Foot Locker Northeast Regionals, where she placed second. (COURTESY)

As Jackie Gaughan prepared for three of her biggest cross-country races of the season, she focused on having fun and limiting the pressure she put on herself. Gaughan’s approach helped her capture two major titles and qualify for the Foot Locker Cross Country National Championships last month.

The Exeter High junior won the NHIAA Meet of Champions crown with a course-record setting performance at Mine Falls Park in Nashua on Nov. 5. Gaughan followed up by winning the New England High School Cross Country Championship at Ponaganset High in Scituate, R.I., one week later. She capped her November campaign with a second-place finish at the Foot Locker Cross Country Northeast Regional Championships Nov. 26, which qualified her for the national meet.

For her performance in all three races, Gaughan was selected as the November Apple Therapy Services/Bedford Ambulatory Surgical Center Athlete of the Month by the New Hampshire Union Leader Board of Judges.

“I think just the excitement and atmosphere of each race gets a little bit bigger,” Gaughan said. “You have to focus on what you’ve done in training and (lean) on what you’ve done previously and also remember each week is different.”

Gaughan, of Exeter, opened November by rewriting the record book at Mine Falls Park with her first-place time of 17 minutes, 14.6 seconds. She finished nearly 14 seconds faster than the previous course record of 17:28 set by Hanover’s Georgia Griffin.

“I knew it was a fast course so I knew I could run faster at that course, hopefully, than I would run on the hilly Manchester course (at Derryfield Park),” Gaughan said.

Bishop Guertin of Nashua freshman Caroline Fischer finished as the Meet of Champions runner-up with a time of 17:43.2. Bedford senior Leya Salis took third with her time of 17:52.1. Gaughan said she was tired after the first two miles but she was able to pull away from Fischer and Salis and maintain her pace.

Fisher and Salis proved to be Gaughan’s biggest competition again at the New England championships. Salis finished runner-up at the regional meet with a time of 17:54.9 and Fischer placed third with a time of 18:00.6. Gaughan completed the course in 17:34.11, becoming the first New Hampshire female to win the race since Griffin did in 2006.

Earning the New England title was a bit of a redemption story for Gaughan, who placed 13th at the meet last year.

“She’s very self-motivated,” Exeter cross country coach Joe Scascitelli said. “She expects the most of herself and really strives to reach high levels. That’s a good attribute to have when you want to be one of the elites.”

After exorcising some demons at the New England meet, Gaughan achieved her longtime goal of qualifying for nationals. She was nervous heading into the Foot Locker Northeast Regional Champions but felt she could finish among the top 10 to qualify for the national meet.

“I thought it was going to be close,” Gaughan said. “I thought maybe I’d finish around ninth or 10th.”

Gaughan took second with a time of 17:55.2, just more than five seconds behind champion Alyssa Aldridge of Linwood, N.J.

In her first appearance in the Foot Locker Cross Country National Championships Dec. 10 in San Diego, Gaughan finished in 17:50.6, earning 11th place and All-American honors.

“Honestly, going into nationals, I didn’t know what to expect,” Gaughan said. “It was kind of nice not going in with expectations or anything.”

Competing at nationals was a milestone for Gaughan but she still has “a ton more goals” she wants to achieve as a Blue Hawk.

“I just want to get the best out of myself and see what I can do,” Gaughan said.

Other athletes considered for the November honor were Plymouth Regional High football player Garrett Macomber, Lehigh University football player Troy Pelletier, Colby-Sawyer College men’s basketball player Jourdain Bell, Southern New Hampshire University men’s basketball player Devin Gilligan, Colby-Sawyer College women’s basketball player Lexie Hamilton and Franklin Pierce University women’s hockey player Michelle Holmes.

Macomber played a vital role on the Bobcats’ march to the NHIAA Division II state championship. The junior fullback rushed for at least 132 yards and one touchdown in each of Plymouth’s playoff victories. Macomber, New Hampshire’s Gatorade Player of the Year, also caught the game-winning touchdown with 16 seconds left in the Division II title game and blocked a field goal on the final play of the Bobcats’ 20-18 semifinal victory over previously unbeaten Windham.

Pelletier, a junior wide receiver from Deerfield, recorded 24 receptions for 341 yards and three touchdowns over Lehigh’s final three games. The Manchester Central graduate tallied a month-high 138 yards and a touchdown on eight receptions in Lehigh’s 64-21 loss at the University of New Hampshire Nov. 26 in the first round of the FCS playoffs.

Bell, a sophomore guard from Manchester, averaged 25.4 points, 6.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.8 steals over a 2-3 start to the season for Colby-Sawyer. Gilligan, a senior from Amherst, averaged 17 points and 8.6 rebounds over SNHU’s 5-0 start. Hamilton, a freshman guard from Sunapee, averaged 14.2 points and three rebounds in Colby-Sawyer’s 4-1 start.

Holmes, a senior forward from Goffstown, registered 11 points (seven goals, four assists) in Franklin Pierce’s 6-1 November campaign.

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Previous 2016 winners: January, Alison Bartlett, Stratham (swimming); February, Maegan Doody, Lee (indoor track); March, Dylan Barreiro, Derry (wrestling); April, Mariah Crisp, Greenland (softball); May, Jake Stanko, Manchester (throwing); June, Lauren Thibodeau, Hampstead (golf); July, Chris Houston, Gilford (golf); August, Jessica Parratto, Dover (diving); September, Andrew Pesci, Windham (soccer); October, Sami Smith, Merrimack (field hockey).

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To submit a nomination for future Athlete of the Month consideration, email the Union Leader Sports Department at and enter “Athlete of the Month” in the subject line.

Athlete of the Month Cross Country Exeter