WAKEFIELD — The Wakefield High boys’ cross country team enters the 2023 season with plenty of confidence as the reigning All-State champions in each of the last two seasons. 

After winning the All-State title for the first time since 1972 in 2021, the Warriors repeated last year as Div. 2 All-State champs, beating 22 other qualifying teams at Fort Devens. 

This year, Wakefield is off to a 1-0 start and will look to keep it going against Melrose today at home at 4 p.m., a huge test and a big step towards the team accomplishing the goals they have set for this season.

“Our goal is to defeat Melrose and the other teams in the league and reclaim the Freedom Division title,” said head coach Perry Pappas. “We also hope to be competitive at the State Championship once again and much of the focus is devoted to the postseason.”

Wakefield will lean on a new group of captains to help set the tone in 2023 as William Mezikofsky, Michael Arria, Joe Patt and Ollie Polster will lead the way.

“They have been great leaders so far and know how things operate within our team,” said Pappas of the captains. “They have been very helpful with the many new members of the team as well.”

Wakefield’s depth, the key towards having a team compete at the highest level, should once again be a strength this year. 

“Our top returner, Michael Arria is getting back to form and making clear progress every day. Ollie Polster, William Mezikofksy, Brandon Nett, Andrew Nett and Ethan Mezikfosky have made obvious improvements,” said Pappas of his lineup. “Robert Brown is stronger than he has ever been and starting out racing well. Sophomore David Rocca has made the offseason a priority and is already opening some eyes. Brendan Campea has potential to be a contributor. Tyler Galante and Jacob Ciriello looked strong against Woburn. Joe Patt’s leadership is where he will make a major impact. Freshmen Alec and Evan Buonopane-Cohen, Liam Kelley and Zach Richardson have looked strong among other freshmen who have shown some potential.”

Pappas is also looking for a strong first season from senior Liam Taggart, a track and field standout who ran a 4:27 mile in the spring.

Last Tuesday, the Warriors had their first Middlesex League test in a crossover meet against the Woburn Tanners. The Warriors overcame the Tanners with a winning score of 27-32.

They allowed the first two finishes to go to the Woburn runners. Allowing one more would have meant the Tanners had the automatic win, however the Warrior pack made sure that didn’t happen. Taggart took 3rd place in a time of 17:11 for the 3 mile course. Polster was on Taggart’s heels placing 4th also in 17:11. Arria was 5th in a time of 17:16 just ahead of Woburn’s third runner. 

After that, it was all Wakefield with Brandon Nett in 7th running 17:22. William Mezikofsky was 8th in 17:26. Andrew Nett was 9th in 17:38. Ethan Mezikofsky was 10th in 17:53 to complete the scoring. Brown had a good run finishing 14th in 18:22. Rocca ran his first varsity race placing 15th in a time of 18:55. Campea was 18th in 20:44.

In the JV race, the Warriors had a perfect score of 15-50 and took the first 15 places ahead of Woburn’s first runner. Galante was 1st in a time of 19:19. Ciriello was 2nd in 19:24. Patt was 3rd in 19:50. Sophomore Max Viselli was 4th in 19:53. Sophomore Ryan Paige was 5th in 20:24. Freshman Alec Bunopane-Cohen was 6th in 20:33. Junior Aidan Martin completed the scoring placing 7th in 20:48. 

Altogether, Wakefield will work towards improving each week in order to be at their best when the postseason arrives. At the All-State level, the Warriors will have plenty of tough competition in Div. 2. In a preseason poll by the MSTCA, Wakefield was ranked 3rd behind Danvers, who Wakefield beat by 1 point last year for the title and Groton-Dunstable. Pappas also listed Melrose as a threat at the league and state level. 

“Although some names have stood out early this season there are a bunch of others who have been working very hard to help the team be great,” said Pappas. “It’s enjoyable to coach a team with so many dedicated athletes – it keeps me motivated as a coach. Those athletes will likely come on strong as the season continues and will start to make an impact at some point in the near future. They will make their names known very soon.

“The focus is on becoming the best we can be and perform our best despite what our competition is doing. Control what we can control and put our best effort forward.”

THE WMHS boys’ cross country team, pictured on their way to the preseason Martha’s Vineyard Invitational, is off to a strong start with a 27-32 road win over Woburn in their first dual meet last week. Wakefield will host a strong Melrose team today at 4 p.m. (File Photo)