NORTHFIELD – The only thing more impressive than the dominant performance that Parker Charter Essential School put forth at the Division 3C State Qualifier Saturday at Northfield Mountain, was the fact that such a dominant performance came from a relatively young bunch.
The top five of the Panther’s lineup all cracked the top 10 of the 191 runner 5K race, which led to a resounding Division 3C title with 26 points, where the nearest competitor silver medalist Lenox Memorial finished with 95 points, an ocean away.
Parker Charter doesn’t have to travel far for its next competition as it heads to Devens for the Division 3 State Championship meet on Saturday.
“We had the top two boys,” Parker Charter Essential School cross country coach Ben Benoit said. “We’ve had an individual winner before but have never gotten top 2. We were focused on pack time and staying connected throughout our top 5 and 7 guys, and we did a really good job of that. Our top five guys (finished in the top 10) so they stuck together really well, which led to a really good score for us.”
Junior Henry Jacobsen has Division 1 ambitions in distance running, and judging by last Saturday’s results he certainly has a strong case. Jacobsen was the individual Division 3C champion, cruising to a 16 minute 28.49 second time on the grueling mountainous course.
“(Jacobsen) came in as a small seventh grader, this is my 26th year at the school, and (Jacobsen) is the most improved runner that we’ve ever had,” Benoit said. “He showed no signs in the seventh grade of ever being this good of a runner. But he developed a lot, so he’s the real deal, and wants to run D1 in college. He’s always really prepared and trains his tail off.”
Jacobsen’s training partner, senior leader Caleb Hatlevig came through just as strong as he normally does, reeling in second place overall with a 16:43.51. Hatlevig would be a clear-cut No. 1 on any other team, but his coach says he benefits from getting an extra push from his star-studded junior teammate.
“(Jacobsen and Hatlevig) are pretty much inseparable training partners,” Benoit said. “They just run so much together. (Hatlevig) is as good a leader as I’ve ever had. He’s our No. 2 fastest guy ever (with Jacobsen being the fastest), on any other team that I’ve had (Hatlevig) would be clearly the No.1 guy. If I could start a team with any boy it would be (Hatlevig), it factors in how good of a runner he is, but also how great of a leader he is, he’s been a captain for 3 years.”
Things started getting scary for the opposition as the remainder of the top 10 unfolded, which is likely more impressive than the two frontrunners at the top. A solid pack of two came storming home pretty shortly afterward, as sophomore Nathaniel Henshaw took sixth (17:04.08), and then right on his heels upcoming superstar seventh grader Jett Johnson came in seventh (17:04.15).
“(Henshaw) is in only his second year on the team,” Benoit said. “So, he’s really improved a lot from year 1 to year 2. Last year he was our seventh or eighth guy, and he’s made a massive jump, his times have dropped about 2 minutes for a 5K.”
Johnson was the lone middle school runner to crack the top 30, with the nearest colleague finishing in the 35th spot. Needless to say, Johnson will be a name readers will hear about in the coming years often.
“(Johnson) is only a seventh grader and finished 3rd or 4th in all our meets for a team that is ranked #1 in Division 3,” Benoit said. “It’s rare for a team to have an eighth grader that good on their team, and the fact that he’s a seventh grader, he’s the best seventh grader that I’ve ever seen, not just my team but any team…He’s off the charts incredible.”
Conner Stach put an exclamation point on the day's festivities, closing Parker’s scoring in 10th place and posting an impressive 17:23.06.
“(Stach) has improved a lot,” Benoit said. “He was our No. 5 guy on our team that won state’s two years ago, so he’s kind of held his place, but the team has gotten better, so he’s a really strong No. 5 runner.”
Danny Garrison, a ninth grader, served as the first displacer, securing 17th with a 17:55.05. To put his performance in perspective, 17th would’ve placed at least second on all but two teams, and because of the Panthers’ depth, he was outside the scoring.
Abram Brownson (19.07.59) finished 38th as the last displacer, which would’ve been a scoring position for all but two other teams. Sy Lance will substitute for Brownson in the State Championship.
The frightening thing is all runners except Hatlevig will be returning next year, meaning the future looks incredibly bright.
But there’s still more action to get to before the season is up, as Parker will enter its home turf Saturday as the likely favorite in Division 3.
“This season has really gone according to plan,” Benoit said. “The training has been great; the workouts have been great. It’s a group of kids that are a bunch of overachievers… So as a coach I’m pretty confident in this group, because I can tell that they’re confident in each other.”
Parker won the Twilight Invitational at Cape Cod, and also won the sophomore race with a group without any sophomores. The Panthers finished the regular season 10-0 (8-0 in the Colonial Athletic), and are undefeated in the league since 2008.
Nashoba Tech competed in Division 3A, Sam Hesketh (108th, 21:08.47), Josiah Wells (120th, 21:29.95), Keegan Strykowski (139th, 22:18.38), Jack Meadows (169th, 25:22.29), Jaxzon Giannangelo (171st, 26:07.32), and Seamus Peters (177th, 29:56.38) helped the Vikings to a 26th place showing with 692 points.