H.S. Cross Country: Mohawk’s Poplawski, Frontier’s Brynda leaders of the pack

Staff Writer
Published: 9/17/2019 10:24:54 PM

SOUTH DEERFIELD — After losing Meghan Davis to graduation, the Mohawk Trail girls cross country team was in need of someone to step in and fill the void left by one of the best runners in Western Mass.

Luckily for the Warriors, Grace Poplawski answered the call. Poplawski decided to make the switch from soccer to cross country for her senior year, and her speed and athleticism have been on display during the early portion of the cross country season.

After not running in the team’s season-opener last week, Poplawski made an emphatic opening statement in her first-ever cross country race, Tuesday. In a tri-meet with host Frontier and Hopkins Academy, the senior dashed to a winning time of 18 minutes, 31 seconds to help the Warriors earn a sweep.

Going into the final stretch of the 2.75-mile course in South Deerfield, which ends with a lap around the Frontier track, Poplawski and Frontier’s Abigail Howard were neck-and-neck.

As the two made the final turn, Poplawski kicked it into another gear, racing ahead and finishing just ahead of Howard for the win. The Frontier harrier was the runner-up with a time of 18:33.

“I give all the credit to my team,” Poplawski said. “They push me so much. It was a lot of fun to run with them. [Me and Howard] were always really close. I always think, stay strong and push through. It’s not painful, it’s just uncomfortable. I want to make sure I do my best.”

Poplawski made the switch to cross country this year after competing in some distance events during spring track, and she fell in love with long-distance running. She enjoys the team approach that cross country presents. 

“I like the range,” Poplawski said, “and just everyone trying to do their best and push each other to do better.”

Mohawk Trail head coach Joe Chadwick was pleasantly surprised when Poplawski told him she wanted to run cross country for her final year of high school.

“Her and her sisters were all throwers and she said she wanted to try distance in track,” Chadwick said. “Like I would have a problem with that? She did really good running the mile and half-mile in track. I told her, ‘I know you’re a good soccer player but if you want to run cross country, I’ll coach you.’”

Outside of Howard, the Warriors held every other top-five finish in Tuesday’s meet. Erika Looman took third (18:47), Erica Szewczyk came in fourth (19:07) and Savannah Simmons wound up fifth (19:21), as the team defeated Frontier, 22-33, and Hopkins, 15-50. Frontier defeated Hopkins, 15-50. 

For the Red Hawks, coach Bob Smith was pleased with his team’s performance.

Smith has a young squad this fall, one that he said makes coaching enjoyable in his 40th year with the program.

Howard is just a freshman, and fellow freshman Angelina Egland (sixth place, 19:30), eighth-grader Leah Gump (seventh, 19:33), sophomore Sadie Ross (eighth, 20:08) and seventh-grader Sasha Malo (10th, 20:30) all had top 10 finishes, giving Frontier hope for both the present and future of the program.

“It was a good meet,” Smith said. “We are really young. We have a nice pack and it’s coming.”

Late surge gives Frontier’s Brynda a win

Gehrig Brynda was confident heading into Tuesday’s meet for the Frontier boys. He expected Dennis Simmons of Mohawk Trail to be his chief competition for first place overall. 

Instead, as he entered the track for the home stretch, he found Johnathan Hanscom of Hopkins just ahead of him.

Brynda caught up with Hanscom right before the 100-meter mark, passing him and sprinting across for a first-place finish time of 15 minutes, 19 seconds.

“I started picking it up on the turn,” Brynda said. “It doesn’t matter if you have anything left or not, you just have to empty the tank. I pick a kid at the beginning of the race that I know is just about as good as me or better and I try to hang with him and kill him on the last mile, where I start to pick it up.”

Hanscom took second with a time of 15:21 and Simmons was the third runner to cross the finish line with a time of 15:38.

With Tuesday’s meet held at Frontier, Brynda and his fellow Red Hawk runners had an advantage of knowing the course. The squad snagged identical 19-44 wins over both Mohawk Trail and Hopkins, and Hopkins narrowly edged the Warriors, 28-29.

“It helps a lot being familiar with the course,” Brynda said. “If you’ve run it a lot, you know when you should be conserving and when you should be kicking. The little things help so much. It’s shorter than a lot of courses but it’s faster than a lot of courses.”

After Simmons, the Red Hawks had the next six finishers. Patrick Boyden (fourth, 16:35), Brett Robinson (fifth, 17:11), Danny Fellows (sixth, 17:20), Kai Sharp (seventh, 17:20), Aden Gray (eighth, 17:45) and Jack Carey (ninth, 17:46) all finished in the top 10.

After Frontier graduated some of its top runners from last year’s team, Brynda is pleased to see other runners stepping up early in the season. He hopes that will enable the Red Hawks to compete well this fall.

“We lost some good runners,” Brynda said. “We lost four of our top 10 but the guys behind them, they’re almost interchangeable. They work so hard and they put it all out there for the team.”

GIRLS SCORES

Mohawk 22, Frontier 33

Mohawk 15, Hopkins 50

Frontier 15, Hopkins 50

(at Frontier, 2.75 miles)

1. Poplawski (M), 18:31, 2. Howard (F), 18:32, 3. Looman (M), 18:47, 4. Szewczyk (M), 19:21, 5. Simmons (M), 19:21. 6. Egland (F), 19:30, 7. Gump (F), 19:33, 8. Ross (F), 20:08, 9. Upton (M), 20:21, 10. Malo (F), 20:30.

BOYS SCORES

Frontier 19, Mohawk 44

Hopkins 28, Mohawk 29

Frontier 19, Hopkins 44

(at Frontier, 2.75 miles)

1. Brynda (F), 15:19, 2. Hanscom (H), 15:21, 3. Simmons (M), 15:38, 4. Boyden (F), 16:35, 5. Robinson (F), 17:11, 6. Fellows (F), 17:20, 7. Sharp (F), 17:20, 8. Gray (F), 17:45, 9. Carey (F), 17:46, 10. O’Dea (M) 17:58.


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