Warriors cap off season as runner-up to Central Mass. power Hopedale
Published in the November 21, 2016 edition.
By VIN SYLVIA
GARDNER — From the start of preseason workouts, the Wakefield Memorial High boys’ cross country team had its sights set on Hopedale, the perennial MAIA Central Mass. Division 2 champion.
Throughout the fall, the teams came to know each other well, Hopedale narrowly edging out Wakefield in the Div. 2 race at the Frank Kelley Invitational in September and again at the Cape Cod Twilight Invitational in October, this time in a tie-breaker.
Once the Warriors claimed a sectional title of their own on Nov. 12 with a stunningly dominant performance in the Eastern Mass. Div. 4 meet, there could be no doubt: As the teams arrived at Gardner Municipal Golf Course on a sparkling Saturday afternoon for the MIAA All-State Div. 2 finals, Hopedale had its sights set on Wakefield every bit as much as the Warriors had theirs set on the Blue Raiders.
“Wakefield was the main topic of conversation on every single one of our runs this week,” Hopedale senior Jake Murray said after the race. “Every day, it was Wakefield, Wakefield, Wakefield.”
According to Murray, the Warriors actually exceeded the Blue Raiders’ expectations, refusing to start out conservatively despite the tortuous hills in the Gardner course’s opening mile and then pushing the pace valiantly despite those hills having exerted a toll.
Yet Hopedale’s talent and its familiarity with the course – essentially its second home, as well as the site of its state-record seventh straight sectional title a week earlier – prevailed. The Warriors once again placed second to their new state rivals.
Among the 20 teams who qualified for the finals in the state sectionals, Hopedale finished first with 89 points, Wakefield second with 108 and Newburyport a distant third with 178. Melrose, Wakefield’s neighbor and traditional rival, was fourth with 184 points.
“The boys came here to win, so naturally there’s some disappointment,” said Warrior coach Perry Pappas. “But they have to be so proud of all they’ve accomplished this year and of how they competed today. It’s a tough course but they ran well. Hopedale was just a little better.”
Junior Matt Greatorex, coming off a first place finish in the Eastern Mass. Div. 4 race, again led the Warriors, this time placing 12th in a field of 174. Right to the finish, he did all he could to give Wakefield a shot at the title, overtaking Hopedale’s top two runners in the last 200 meters after one of those runners had briefly passed him. Greatorex clocked in at 16:54.
Because four of the runners who crossed the line ahead of him were from schools whose teams did not qualify for the state finals, Greatorex’s finish earned Wakefield 10 points in the team standings.
Newburyport’s Jack Carleo was the individual champion, covering the challenging, 3.1-mile course in 16:20.
Among Wakefield’s five scoring runners, Greatorex finished in 16:54, followed by senior Adam Roberto (21st, 17:11, 14 points), senior Nick McGee (29th, 17:17, 21 points), junior Tommy Lucey (45th, 17:39, 29 points) and senior Ryan Sullivan (56th, 17:49, 36 points), who rounded out the scoring despite competing with a sore hip that had hindered his training all week.
Senior Jack Stevens (94th, 18:18) and sophomore Rohan Singhvi (113th, 18:33) were the Warriors’ other runners in the All-State race, having made the cut from a talented and deep squad that placed second, first and second, respectively, in the varsity, JV and freshman races at the Middlesex League Championship Meet.
The league meet came on the heels of Wakefield winning its first Middlesex Freedom Division championship since 2013 and in advance of its first state sectional title since 1982. The Warriors’ performance in that Eastern Mass. Div. 4 race – the culmination of student-driven summer workouts and a full season of dedicated training and racing – heightened their hope of winning Wakefield’s first All-State championship since 1972.
Non-competing teammates, family members and friends including at least a half-dozen former WMHS runners came made the trip to Gardner to cheer on the Warriors, who rewarded their support with a performance that in other years might have won that elusive championship. Hopedale was simply too strong.
Although Greatorex overtook Hopedale’s top two runners down the stretch, the Blue Raiders overcame the Warriors by packing their five scorers among the top 33 overall finishers. Hopedale’s third, fourth and fifth runners finished within two seconds of each other, placing 31st through 33rd.
“We did what we had to do. We just came up a little short,” said Pappas. “Hopedale was fantastic.”
“I’m happy with how the team performed,” said Roberto, one of Wakefield’s four captains, along with Sullivan, Stevens and fellow senior James Connors. “It’s unbelievable, the season we’ve had and making it this far.”
As Roberto spoke, Murray and his Hopedale teammates arrived at Wakefield’s team tent to commend the Warriors for their competitiveness and their sportsmanship.
“Eastern Mass. is relatively flat, so we thought that when they saw this course, they’d be intimidated but they came out at the start and stayed right with us,” Murray said. “Then, once they did that, we thought they’d run out of gas after the hills but they kept right on fighting. I couldn’t be more proud of the way our teams competed and the town of Wakefield should be proud of this team. They’re great guys and great competitors.”
Pappas – who has built Wakefield from a winless team to one of the strongest in the state during his eight years with the program, five as head coach — agreed.
“This is a season we’ll always remember,” he said. “Every team I’ve coached is special, but this group turned it up a notch.”