State Div. 2 Cross Country: Mohawk Trail girls preparing to go fast

  • Mohawk Trail’s Caitlin Upton (388) and Savannah Simmons (386), along with Frontier’s Leah Gump (137), compete during the WMass Div. 2 girls cross country championship last weekend. STAFF FILE PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Mohawk Trail’s Erika Looman runs to a 27th place finish during the WMass Div. 2 girls cross country championship last weekend. STAFF FILE PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 11/15/2019 10:07:05 PM
Modified: 11/15/2019 10:06:50 PM

It’s been a group effort all season for the Mohawk Trail Regional High School girls cross country team. 

The Warriors qualified as a team for the MIAA Div. 2 championship last Saturday, placing third at Western Mass. with their full lineup helping lock up a spot.

All 10 Mohawk Trail girls will be in Gardner on Saturday for the state meet, which begins at noon at the Gardner Municipal Golf Course with the Div. 2 girls race.

“Hopefully, they’ll be ready to go,” Warrior coach Joe Chadwick said. “Top 10 as a team is the goal. That’d be a really good goal for this group.”

Twenty teams, along with 41 individual qualifiers, will be present Saturday, making for a large field that Mohawk Trail with contend with.

One of those individuals is Frontier Regional School eighth-grader Leah Gump, who qualified after finishing 25th at Western Mass. a week ago. Gump is the lone non-Warrior runner in the area competing. 

If Mohawk Trail wants to achieve a top-10 finish, it’ll need all its runners to step up on the biggest stage. 

Last year, Meghan Davis carried the Warriors to a 16th-place team finish with an eighth-place individual performance. Davis graduated, and Grace Poplawski has taken over the throne as the top Mohawk Trail runner. The senior was the top area runner at the PVIAC Championship as well as the WMass meet.

Poplawski should once again lead the pack of Warrior runners at states, while Chadwick is hoping to get a faster run out of senior Erika Looman.

Looman was sick at Western Mass., leading to a 27th-place finish, good enough for fifth on the team. The senior has consistently been one of the top Warrior runners all season long, and should be right near the top on Saturday now that she’s healthy.

“We’re hoping top 30 for Grace,” Chadwick said. “Hopefully Erika Looman has a better run, she wasn’t feeling good on Saturday. She’s been so solid and dependable. We knew something was wrong. She’ll bounce back. She’s a tough kid.”

Chadwick said one of the unusual aspects of racing against some of the best competition in the state is that you feel like you are running poorly when you actually aren’t. The veteran coach has spent the week trying to get his team mentally prepared.

“These runners are not used to being around 60th or 70th place, which is a great finish at states,” Chadwick said. “It’s hard for your brain to say, ‘I’m running as hard as I can and getting passed.’ We’ve been telling them 60th is like 15th at Western Mass. Keep plugging away and catch people.”

If Looman runs her expected time, Chadwick feels he will need his Nos. 3-5 runners to place between 70th and 80th to get the top-10 finish.

Erika Szewczyk, Savannah Simmons and Caitlin Upton were the three runners to cross after Poplawski, and will need to run like they did at Western Mass. to earn a solid placing at states. 

Carli Cusimano and Sierra Upton both have a good shot to be one of the first five Warriors to cross the finish line.

The course in Gardner is not an easy run. It’s full of hills and turns that create a challenge for the athletes. Mohawk Trail hasn’t had a healthy team all week, and Chadwick has tried to get his team rest before the rigorous 5K run on Saturday. 

“It’s a roller coaster,” Chadwick said of the course. “It’s tough. We’ve rested this week. We’ve done our regular mileage. I’m a firm believer it’s better to get a little out of shape than hurt. It’s been a long season for these girls.”

On the boys side, Warrior Dennis Simmons is the lone area runner to qualify for the state race.

Simmons was also sick during Western Mass., leading to a 14th place finish with a time of 18:04. The sophomore wasn’t happy with the time, but should improve this weekend as he is a big fan of hilly courses.

Last year, Simmons took 97th at the state meet with a time of 18:52. 

“I’d like to see him break 18 minutes on the 5K course,” Chadwick said of Simmons. “I’d like to see him do better than last year.”

The Division 2 boys race kicks off at 1:20 p.m.


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