The Harwood Union High School girls cross-country team is back on top, led by outstanding freshman Ava Thurston and veteran Julianna Young in Saturday’s Division 2 title race.

The Harwood boys finished second to U-32 for the second straight year, and top runner Brendan Magill qualified for the New England championship races — as did the entire Harwood girls team.

The girls team had won eight straight championships before losing the Division 2 title by a single point last year to U-32.

Not this year. Thurston won the Division 2 race, Young was third, Britta Zetterstrom sixth and Caelyn McDonough 11th. But it takes five runners for a team score; would Harwood’s fifth-place runner place high enough? The answer was yes, with a strong performance by Laura Martinez, a freshman running in her first state championship race.

The Harwood boys were led by Magill in fifth place; Hale Boyden was 10th, Carlton Cummisky 13th, Vincent Spina 17th, Luke Groom 23rd, Zennor Dimario 42nd and Winter Haberle 45th.

“All but Magill are underclassmen so we hope to have a strong squad in 2019,” said Harwood coach John Kerrigan.

The boys team has won the state meet 13 times, and has finished second six times. The girls championship is the 25th Vermont state title for Harwood cross-country, and the 12th for the girls team. Kerrigan’s cross-country and track teams have won 43 Vermont state titles.

The girls team

Going into this season, Kerrigan was not optimistic that the Harwood girls could recapture the title. Most runners from both U-32 and Middlebury were coming back this year, and Harwood would have to rely on an incoming crop of green freshmen.

Indeed, Harwood was beaten soundly by U-32 in the first meet of the year.

So, Kerrigan backed off on championship aspirations and helped his runners focus on personal improvement.

“Let’s be the best that we can be,” Kerrigan said, replaying his thinking. “For the first time in nine years, we were not defending a state title, so the pressure was off.”

That approach paid off Saturday on the championship course in Thetford.

Thurston is the sixth Harwood girl to win a state championship cross-country race. Kim Blodgett won in 1987 and 1988, Lori Blodgett in 1990, Annie Menes in 2006, Jaime Thomas in 2010 and 2011, and Erin Magill in 2016 and 2017.

“We really wanted the state championship but we knew it wouldn’t be easy,” Thurston said. “It was going to hurt a lot. But we all ran really hard and it worked out.”

She praised her teammates, particularly Martinez and Young.

“Julianne is such a great team leader,” Thurston said. “She’s so positive, she’s a great training partner and she’s pushed our whole team.”

The boys team

Magill just missed qualifying for the New Englands last year — it’s based on times in the state championship race — and had an uphill battle on Saturday. Snow, sleet and freezing rain glazed the trail at Thetford Academy just minutes before the Division 2 race. The course had been dry for the Division 1 race.

“I was so proud of Brendan today,” Kerrigan said. “He reached his goal despite the disadvantage of the weather. He has been a stalwart for us all year and a great team co-captain. Brendan and our other team co-captain, Alan Clark, will be missed next year.”

Next up: The Harwood girls team and Magill will compete in the prestigious New England Cross-Country Championships in Manchester, N.H., on Nov. 10.

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