Thetford girls beat injury, illness, clock to end XC title drought

  • Thetford Academy's Madelyn Durkee does a workout run during preseason cross-country practice in Thetford, Vt., on Aug. 19, 2021. Durkee place second in the Division III state championship on Oct. 30, 2021, with a time of 20:29.21, contributing to the team's first place championship. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News file — Geoff Hansen

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 11/10/2021 9:15:54 PM
Modified: 11/10/2021 9:16:00 PM

THETFORD — State championships are nothing new for the Thetford Academy boys cross country team. The Panthers have won six of them this century, most recently in 2018.

This year, it was finally the girls team’s time to shine, as Thetford took home its first VPA Division III title in 25 years on Oct. 30 at the Panthers’ home Woods Trail course.

Junior Madelyn Durkee paced Thetford by finishing second in Division III and seventh across all divisions with a time of 20 minutes, 29.21 seconds in the 5,000-meter race.

Co-head coach Joe Deffner said Durkee was somewhat reluctant to join the team as a freshman, but she has established herself as one of the top runners in the state. Durkee’s performance qualified her for the New England championship meet back at Thetford this Saturday.

“The week before, we had pretty easy practices with a lot of light running,” Durkee said. “It was probably the best race of my season so far.”

The Panthers’ depth behind Durkee was tested throughout the season. Injuries limited Thetford to six runners at the championships, and two of them weren’t certain they would be able to compete until a few days before.

Freshman Ava Hayden had a cold in the week leading up to the championships and missed some practice time due to COVID-19 protocols. She never tested positive, though, and was good to go on race day.

Hayden finished 10th in the Division III race in 22:27.60. Thetford also had the eighth-place finisher in sophomore Annie Hesser, who completed the 5K in 22:22.16.

Sophomore Charlize Brown’s status was also uncertain. Brown was dealing with tendinitis in her ankle, and Deffner said she could barely put weight on her foot the Monday before championships. The team was unable to get her a physical therapy appointment due to lack of availability, so Deffner called a friend of his who is a sports medicine doctor.

The doctor diagnosed Brown’s condition over the phone and prescribed a treatment plan. It worked — Brown was the Panthers’ fourth finisher, placing 21st in 24:46.42.

“I was very scared thinking I would not be able to race,” Brown said. “I was scared letting the team down and the coaches and myself. I did not run for 3-4 days straight. I would go home and take a bunch of ibuprofen and ice (my ankle) so I would be ready.”

Sophomores Mary Bosco and Cecilia Luce rounded out the title-winning squad. With the entire team returning in 2022, a repeat championship seems eminently possible for Thetford.

“Our coach told us we had won during our cool down, and we all just started crying,” Hesser said. “By ourselves in the middle of the woods, we were all crying. It was such a nice moment.”

Benjamin Rosenberg can be reached at or 603-727-3302.

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