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New Coach, Same Results

Marauders Remain a Force Under First-Year Mentor

  • Lebanon, Hanover and Rivendell boys compete against other schools during Tuesday's cross country meet at Storrs Pond Recreation Area in Hanover. Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    Lebanon, Hanover and Rivendell boys compete against other schools during Tuesday's cross country meet at Storrs Pond Recreation Area in Hanover. Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • Hanover cross country coach Eric Picconi encourages runners as they turn a corner on Tuesday. Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    Hanover cross country coach Eric Picconi encourages runners as they turn a corner on Tuesday. Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • Girls from the Lebanon cross country team end their huddle with a cheer before the start of their race during a cross country meet at Storrs Pond Recreation Area, in Hanover, N.H., on September 17, 2013. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    Girls from the Lebanon cross country team end their huddle with a cheer before the start of their race during a cross country meet at Storrs Pond Recreation Area, in Hanover, N.H., on September 17, 2013.
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • Lebanon, Hanover and Rivendell boys compete against other schools during Tuesday's cross country meet at Storrs Pond Recreation Area in Hanover. Valley News - Sarah Priestap
  • Hanover cross country coach Eric Picconi encourages runners as they turn a corner on Tuesday. Valley News - Sarah Priestap
  • Girls from the Lebanon cross country team end their huddle with a cheer before the start of their race during a cross country meet at Storrs Pond Recreation Area, in Hanover, N.H., on September 17, 2013. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

Hanover — When it finally came time for the Hanover High cross country team to replace 32-year coaching luminary Jim Eakin following last season, the Marauders decided to keep things in the family. So far, it’s been paying off nicely.

Under first-year coach Eric Picconi — Eakin’s son-in-law — Hanover swept a five-team home meet Tuesday at Storrs Pond Recreation Area, the third win in four races this season for both the boys and girls teams. Both teams have won every New Hampshire meet so far, their lone setbacks coming Sept. 7 at the Essex (Vt.) Invitational, where Hanover’s girls placed second and its boys sixth among competition from across the Twin States.

The Marauder girls, an NHIAA Division II runner-up to Coe-Brown a year ago, lost three of their top five runners to graduation, while the boys lost their top four, including individual state runner up Noah Williams.

Both programs figure to contend for another appearance in the Meet of Champions (top six at states) this season under Picconi, 35, a Lebanon native who first met Eakin while competing for Lebanon High in the 1990s. Picconi and Eakin’s daughter, Jessica, recently celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary.

Eakin, a teachers’ consultant and learning specialist at Hanover High from 1981-2008, retired as Marauders coach last year after guiding them to a total of 49 state titles (22 team, 27 individual) and a girls New England crown in 2006.

Eakin is most proud of the Marauders’ team accolades, feeling it speaks highly of player development and consistency. That team-first approach is taken on fully by Picconi, a Hanover High Spanish teacher who served as Eakin’s assistant for eight seasons.

“Eight years is a long time, and I learned a lot (from Eakin),” Picconi said. “He taught me to put team ahead of individual accomplishments and to be inclusive with everyone who comes out to run for you. When you see a runner who is in the middle of the pack when they’re a freshman, they have a lot of potential to be a lot faster by the time they’re a senior. That takes patience. You have to listen a lot and understand that almost everyone is going to have injuries and mental hurdles to overcome along the way. While you’re addressing all of these individual issues, you have to keep the goals focused on performing as a team.”

Senior Zola Doyle was the fourth Marauder to cross the finish line at states a year ago, placing 22nd overall with a time of 20 minutes, 38 seconds at Manchester’s Derryfield Park. While course terrain certainly varies, Doyle had better times while placing fourth overall at Essex (20:14) and set a Storrs course record Tuesday while winning the race with a time of 17:47. (The mark broke Parker Goss’s 1-year course record; the course was altered prior to last year).

Fellow seniors Liesel Robbins (second; 17:52) and Aparna Allavilli (third; 18:22) weren’t far behind. Kirsten Miller (eighth; 19:43) and Liza Goss (ninth; 18:44) rounded off Hanover’s scorers as the Marauders placed all five in the top 10.

In a season-opening meet at Lebanon on Sept. 3, the Marauders had a perfect score of 15, taking the top five spots with Doyle’s younger sister, Finley (third), and Kay Torrey (fifth) in the mix. Hanover then placed five runners in the top 20 at Essex and five in the top 12 at Merrimack Valley on Sept. 10.

“They’ve definitely had some really good races,” Picconi said of the girls team. “I think it surprised some people who thought we’d have to get a bit deeper in the year to get those kind of results.”

Even without top runner Garrett Ruley (knee) Tuesday, the Marauder boys still placed five in the top 15. Sophomore Felix Herron took second in 15:23, just in front of freshman Adam Glueck (third; 15:25). Walter Mosenthal (ninth; 15:56), freshman Reed Winter (10th;15:57) and senior Tucker Cadow (15th; 16:13) rounded off Hanover’s scorers. The boys race was won by Andy MacGibbon of runner-up Goffstown in 15:12.

Ruley, a senior who helped facilitate the finish line area while giving the knee a rest on Tuesday, said the transition to having Picconi as a head coach rather than an assistant has been seamless for the team.

“Obviously, Mr. Eakin was a great person to learn from,” said Ruley, the fifth Marauder (34th overall) to finish at states a year ago. “Mr. Picconi knows what he’s talking about. He understands running and he runs with us, which has been fun.”

For Picconi, the most challenging adjustment has been his role as coach during the school day, when Marauder athletes have been known to seek advice and pointers for that day’s work. The Norwich resident has had to balance out his duties as a teacher along with those that come with leading one of the most successful varsity programs at the school.

“It’s absolutely been more challenging (than when I was Eakin’s assistant),” Picconi said. “During the school day, the athletes might come up to me and tell me this is sore or that is sore and should they plan for a full workout that day. So I have to sort of make those decisions on the fly and still be a Spanish teacher. So being the (head) coach is great, but it is more responsibility.”

Lebanon’s girls were fourth on Tuesday while the Raider boys were fifth.

The Lebanon girls placed five runners between spots 15-30, with Kelsie Atwater (15th) leading the Raiders with a time of 20:33.

Brenna Peterson (18th; 20:52), Bella Vice-Van Heyde (19th; 20:52), Emily Han (22nd; 21:18) and Micala Bish (30th; 22:42) followed.

Lebanon senior Josh Fontaine led all Raider boys with a seventh-place time of 15:45. Raider teammates Zak Kinsman (17th; 16:33), Ethan Guyer (39th; 17:55), Henry Kovacs (40th; 17:56) and Nick Orgnic (44th; 18:12) followed.

Boys team scores — 1. Hanover 38, 2. Goffstown 46, 3. Merrimack Valley 78, 4. Windham 85, 5. Lebnaon 109.

Girls team scores — 1. Hanover 23, 2. Goffstown 54, 3. Windham 83, 4. Lebanon 93, 5. Merrimack Valley 98.

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