DEVENS – Freshman Jake Leone put forth a strong individual performance at the MIAA Division 3 State Championship Cross Country meet on Saturday in Devens. Leone was the fifth best runner in his class and cracked the top 35 as an individual to represent Ayer Shirley on the biggest stage of the season.
“(Leone’s) performance was fantastic,” Ayer Shirley Regional boys head coach Chris Donovan said. “He finished exactly where I thought he’d come in. He was seeded high 20s.”
Junior Cole New also qualified for the biggest stage but opted to start his training for the indoor track season. New is a Division 1 track prospect in the 400-meter dash, and uses cross country as a means to stay in shape for his top sport.
“New decided to sit out and we were okay with it honestly,” Donovan said. “He’s ready for track, the fact that he qualified is cool, but he’s already been training for the track season. He went and supported Jake, which was awesome. In terms of the training, this past week, he already transitioned to the mid-distance.”
Leone was in the toughest field to date but was able to secure a quality 32nd place overall with a 17 minute 20.38 second time on the 5K course. Evan Hedlund was the top performing freshman finishing 12th overall with a 16:38.73, followed by classmates in 14th, 17th, and 31st place. The only younger runner to get the best of Leone was Parker Charter star 7th grader Jett Johnson who finished 19th with a 16:55.65.
“(Leone) did another personal best,” Donovan said. “It was a 4 second PR (personal record). Last year on that course he was in the 18:30’s as an eighth grader. So to be over a minute faster in a year is pretty outstanding. He was the fifth freshman, and especially with the boys, it’s an upperclassmen race when you get to this point in the season. So for him to hang in there for a bit was impressive.”
Donovan said that Leone was a little disappointed in how his race unfolded, but that with a maturity level and mind of an upperclassman, Leone is already starting to strategize how he could improve upon the performance.
“He went out a little fast, which we talked about beforehand that it’s almost impossible not to go out a little fast, but try to control it,” Donovan said. “Because especially at Devens it starts on a grass field with no hill, and there’s a ton of people and the front pack went out in under 5-minute pace.”
“The overall time was good,” Donovan said. “And what impressed me most is that one, he’s not too discouraged about it, and two, within minutes of it ending he was already breaking down exactly what he did wrong and what he needs to do next time around without me having to tell him… That’s how he’s been since the 7th grade, he’s mature in that way, understanding how a race can unfold, so I thought overall it was a positive day for sure.”
Leone will compete in the Footlocker Cross Country Regional at Franklin Park on Saturday and will be running in the freshman/sophomore race. The regional's incorporate teams from throughout the northeast United States.
“It’ll be a really competitive race,” Donovan said. “You’ve got kids from New York and Pennsylvania, but I think he’ll be in the mix for a medal there. He’s already thinking about what he needs to do differently, and to have a quick chance at retribution will be good.”
For the winter season Leone will shift to the basketball team, before shifting over to outdoor track in the spring.