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By a Whisker, Cougars Earn First State Title

With a half-dozen boys teams in contention during most of Sunday’s NHIAA Division III state track and field meet, the public address announcer was listing off a new order of leaders seemingly every time he took to the microphone for an update. The host Lakers, Hopkinton, Bow and Berlin all appeared to have a shot early on.

As the unseasonably chilly day grew longer, only two programs -— Monadnock and Kearsarge — remained near the top. The announcer gave one last update after 17 events, with one remaining:

Kearsarge 65.5, Monadnock 65.

The notice prompted a mass gathering for the final event, the discus, where both the Huskies and Cougars carried athletes who were expected to score. Keasarge senior Jacob Jones uncorked a hurl of 125 feet, 2 inches — his farthest recorded throw of the year by a full seven feet — good for second place and three spots better than Husky junior Nick Skrocki.

For the Cougars, it was time to celebrate. Kearsarge had clinched its first-ever track championship, boys or girls, and did it in exhilarating fashion.

“This was a really excellent team, but there were a lot of good teams there,” said Cougars coach Ed Rehor. “Going into the discus, we knew Mondanock had a good thrower. It felt great to finish the job.”

With an ample roster of 35 athletes — many returning from a Cougar squad that placed third at last year’s state meet — Rehor knew his boys were primed for a strong bid this year. He also knew that numbers alone wouldn’t be enough, and that Kearsarge would need contributions from many athletes to get over the championship hump.

“I told the kids, ‘Look, we’ve never won a title, but if we don’t give up and things fall our way, we’re going to be in the mix,’ ” Rehor recalled.

“But I knew we’d have to stay healthy, and everyone would need to do their part.”

Senior Gabriel Carter certainly did his, winning the 110-meter hurdles for the first time at a state meet, in 15.98 seconds, and successfully defending last year’s wins in both the long jump (20-10) and triple jump (41-10.75).

Carter was the only Cougar to win even a single event outright, yet in true team-oriented fashion, Kearsarge received scoring contributions from 10 others.

Sophomore Zach Beltz was fourth in the high jump (5-08), fifth in the 100 (12.30) and part of the 4x100 relay team that placed third in 46.26 seconds. Elliot Lukaitis, Corey Jerome and Eric Morin were the others, Morin filling in for teammate Alex Ackpan, who was recovering from wisdom tooth surgery.

“That was the best race I’d seen from that combination all year,” Rehor said. “They really came through.”

The Cougars had more relay success in the 4x400, where Carter, senior Sam Vanetten, Morin and Reed Bell placed fourth in 3:40.72.

Kearsarge took three of the top five high jump spots, Vanetten coming in second with a lunge of 5-10 and Beltz (fourth) and freshman Troy Davis both hitting 5-08.

Bell fell down while running the 110 hurdles and placed last, but responded with a podium finish in the 400 (third; 53.32) for six precious points.

“That was huge, especially in a meet that was this close,” said Rehor. “I thought the fact that he fell during the hurdles, but got back up and ran a great 400, was symbolic of our season. We saw a lot of perseverance this year.”

They’ve got the plaque to prove it.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.