AYER – At last year’s MIAA All-State meet, Emmett Johnson was just happy to be there lining up at his first championship meet. The then-freshman finished in the middle of the pack, placing 115th with a time of 18 minutes, 30.9 seconds.
This year, he looks like a completely different runner. Johnson shaved nearly two minutes off his time, cruising to 11th in 16 minutes, 40.91 seconds, earning a medal and showing that he’s more than capable of taking up the mantle of Mohawk Trail’s top performer.
“The more experience you have at these big meets, the better you can do,” Johnson said.
He had big shoes to fill last year when senior Dennis Simmons graduated, but Johnson has shown that he, too, has undeniable talent on the cross-country course. Simmons took 10th a season ago.
“He’s a really good half-miler and everything, and you watch him and you realize that this kid could be special,” Mohawk Trail coach Joe Chadwick said. “He’s got that rare thing – speed, and now he’s getting the endurance to go with it.”
The cherry on top for Johnson was qualifying with his team, which got to experience the excitement of the All-State meet to cap off a successful season.
“The difference between lining up with just one or two people than with all seven of us – it’s really great,” Johnson said. “And for the younger kids on the team, to be able to have the chance to go to such a big meet is great.”
Vincent Gauthier ran at 17:54:04 to place 48th for the Warriors. Peter Healy (133rd, 19:40.17), Tanner Biagini (142nd, 19:51.43) and Chay Mojallali (151st, 20:28.64) also scored for Mohawk Trail.
Different runners are motivated by different things. Hampshire eighth-grader Kathleen Barry had two things on her mind as she toed the starting line at her first all-state meet.
“One was I get a meatball sub once I finish, two was we need to run faster so we can be better than the soccer team,” Barry said, grinning.
Whether it was the meatball sub or her training, Barry was flying on Saturday, finishing 10th overall in the Division 3 race with a time of 20:12.85. Barry’s performance led the Raiders to a sixth place finish with 226 points, just edging out Frontier by four points (seventh, 230). The two teams have clashed all season long, with Hampshire always coming out on top, a departure from years past. Despite falling to their heated rivals, Frontier was pleased with its team success, earning two spots better than last year’s ninth-place finish.
“We wanted to improve on last year’s performance. Last year we were ninth and this year we were seventh so it was a success,” Frontier’s Leah Gump said. “We’ve raced (Hampshire) a lot. It’s sort of a friendly rivalry, because I think they really push us to be our best as well.”
Gump finished eight spots behind Barry in 18th with a 20:39.45 while teammate Abigail Howard took 45th with a 21:31.00. Behind Howard was junior Nicole Plasse, who finished her season strong with a 22:05.88 time to take 72nd place.
“I think Nicole Plasse had the race of her season today. She was not happy with her she last two races of her, and she came back and she ran third for us today,” Frontier head coach Bob Smith said. “Our fourth runner today was a seventh grader, 12 years old, Maia Christensen – she did a really great job. Sasha Malo and Sylvie (DiBartolomeo) and Bianca (Peura) – everyone contributed.”
Mohawk Trail also qualified its girls team, the first time the group had made the trip in several years. Youngsters Natalie Lanoue (41st, 21:26.75), Anya Read (49th, 21:38.10) and Valeri Bzomowski (53rd, 21:43.94) finished less than 20 seconds apart, which bodes well for the future of the Warriors program. Lanoue and Bzomowski are eighth graders, and Read is a freshman.
“It’s so exciting to me, for the most part they’re very, very young,” Chadwick. “Almost every meet, we only had five girls, and that’s what it takes to score. Somehow they held it together, and they came down here and got 12th place.”