BOSTON – Freshman Jake Leone put an exclamation mark on the end of his cross country season. Rebounding from a good, but not exceptional race in the state championship, Leone saved the best race of his career for last Saturday at the Footlocker Cross Country Regional at Franklin Park in Boston.
Leone took home fourth place overall in the freshman/sophomore race, with a 16 minute 59 second time on the 5,000-meter course.
“Jake (Leone) had a phenomenal day,” Ayer Shirley Regional cross country head coach Chris Donovan said. “He ran a 16:59 which was a 25 second personal best from the previous week (at the state Division 3 championship). I couldn’t be more thrilled with how his season ended.”
Donovan said that he didn’t want to give Leone a specific goal heading into the race, because sometimes setting extremely high expectations for a young runner can be overwhelming. But heading into the race the goal was to get into the top 15, which Leone far exceeded with relative ease.
Another goal was beating his 17:24 from the week prior, as Franklin Park has a similar terrain to that of Devens where the prior week’s race had taken place, with a lot of grass and one big hill to go over.
Leone took an early lead as the frontrunner of the race for a good chunk of the beginning, in the final mile unattached runners Teddy Hojlo (16:48), John Joyce (16:56) and Benjamin McWaters (16:57) crept past to secure the top 3 spots.
“(Leone) had a race plan and he followed it,” Donovan said. “I love when a kid can get on the podium and get a medal, but then you take a step back and within a week you see the growth in an athlete, in terms of mental maturity, that for me is almost more of a win, because it’s showing that he’s reflecting on a performance, he’s making a new plan, and then the biggest thing going out an executing that plan. So to see that from one Saturday to the next is a coach's dream. It was an awesome day for him, and a great way to end his season.”
Donovan said that runners can have that fear going into the last race of the season, that if it doesn’t go well, then the performance would be etched in their memories until the next season, which for Leone would be outdoor, as he competes on the school’s basketball team in the winter. But in this case it will be nothing but good vibes and fond memories until the freshman sensation laces up the track shoes in the spring.
“(Leone’s) just got such a bright future,” Donovan said. “And I think we’re going to keep having similar conversations about him in the future, because he just keeps getting better.”
The Footlocker Regional featured runners from all New England states, but also New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.