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Comforts of Home, in the Long Run: Thetford Wins VPA Cross Country Crown

  • Isaac Kaplan, of Randolph Union High School, left, and Owen Deffner, of Thetford Academy, right, keep pace at the front of the Division III pack early in their Vermont Principals Association state cross country race at Thetford Academy in Thetford, Vt., Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. Deffner finished first at 17:42.1 ahead of Kaplan's 18:02.6. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Laila Reimanis, of Sharon Academy, approaches the finish line at the Vermont Principals Association state cross country meet at Thetford Academy in Thetford, Vt., Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. Reimanis finished seventh in Division III with a time of 21:46.3. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Jackson Ransom, of Thetford Academy, gets pulled to his feet by finish line officials after his 20:35.4 finish in the Division III VPA state cross country race at Thetford Academy in Thetford, Vt., Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Thetford Academy sophomore Layla Hanissian finished with a time of 24:50.8 in the Division III Vermont Principals Association state cross country meet at Thetford Academy in Thetford, Vt., Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Saturday, October 27, 2018

Thetford — Owen Deffner​​​​​​’s first season on the Thetford Academy cross country team ended in a way that he’ll remember forever, on a day that he’ll never forget.

Deffner, a senior, paced the Division III field during a cold, wet and snowy Vermont Principals Association state cross country championship meet on Saturday morning at Thetford Academy, finishing the 5-kilometer race in 17 minutes, 42.1 seconds, and overtaking second-place finisher Isaac Kaplan, of Randolph, in the final stretch. The result helped host Thetford, which graduated plenty of its top talent from a year ago, finish atop the D-III team standings to win its first state title since 2010.

“I honestly didn’t think I was doing that well,” Deffner said. “Then somebody said (Kaplan) is 100 (meters) back. I got kind of excited. I got a little ahead of myself, at that point. … I won’t forget this: the weather, the atmosphere.”

Deffner wasn’t so sure about the sport two years ago, and he spent plenty of time deciding between Thetford’s boys soccer team and its cross country team, according to Panthers co-coach Joe Deffner, Owen’s father. Last fall, Deffner spent a semester at the Alzar School in Idaho, where he was reintroduced to competitive running.

He returned to the Upper Valley with a new love for the sport and trained through the summer to get ready for the season. His work ethic impressed his coaches, and his efforts paid off in the biggest race of the year.

“It’s been a really special season,” Joe Deffner said.

Ian Spelman finished fifth (18:46), Eamon Deffner took sixth (18:47) and Jacob Slaughter ranked 16th (19:29) for the Panthers, who placed second behind Stowe last season. Thetford graduated multiseason distance runner Malcolm Silver-Van Meter last spring; Silver-Van Meter won the D-III race last fall.

Woodstock’s girls, under first-year head coach Susannah Colby, were just as impressive.

Senior Sydney Pilot led the Wasps to fourth place in the D-II championship race. Pilot crossed the finish line fifth at 21:25. Freshman Victoria Bassette was three spots behind her in eighth place at 21:40.

“I’m overall really pleased with the last race, to end it really well,” Bassette said. “I PR’d by about 20 seconds, so I was really happy about that. … Next year, if I stay smart, stay injury-free and keep working hard, I hope to improve.”

Molly Shearer finished in 22nd place (23:47) for the Wasps, whose girls team ranked 10th at last year’s state meet. Morgan Myers took 27th place (24:08), and Mackenzie Hewitt got 44th place (26:07) to round out Woodstock’s scoring.

“I’m really proud of them,” said Colby, an art teacher who coached Northfield-Williamstown to a D-III title over Oxbow last season. “They worked their butt off every practice, and it shows. … We had a very young crew this season. Considering over half our team is freshmen, I think that says a lot about how strong this team is and where they’re going to go in the future.”

Woodstock’s boys finished sixth in D-II, led by a fifth-place finish (17:58) by sophomore Riley Shepherd. Owen Coates added an 11th-place finish (18:34) for the Wasps.

“I haven’t been doing as well as I would like to,” Shepherd said. “I think it’s a growing year for me. … I feel like I’ve grown a lot this year, and I think that’s taken away some of my energy.”

Hartford sophomore Beatrice Wendling led the Hurricanes with a 23rd-place finish in 23:50, helping Hartford finish ninth out of 11 schools. The result was Hartford’s first team score under second-year head coach Katie Hluchyj, whose team has reaped the benefits of a new on-campus cross country trail that was finished this fall. Hluchyj said training on the new course helped ready her team for states.

“I think I was better prepared, too,” Hluchyj said. “I knew how to get them ready.”

Bethany Davis took 33rd (24:50), Katie Trombley — who finished sixth in the Marble Valley League championships last week — claimed 43rd place (26:07), Clementine Philip was 46th (26:29) and Ceci Spaulding took 63rd (29:05) for the Hurricanes. All of Hartford’s scoring runners will return next year.

Harwood’s girls finished the day atop the D-II team standings for their second state title in three seasons. Ava Thurston paced the field with a 20:24 finish; a Highlander runner has won the D-II championship race in each of the last three seasons. U-32 won the D-II boys title.

In Division III, Thetford’s girls finished fifth out of 12 schools. Eloise Van Meter led the way in 17th, finishing her race in 23:29. Sharon placed eighth overall, paced with a fifth-place result by junior Laila Reimanis (21:47). Windsor took ninth, with Morgan McKeen, in 30th place (25:15) and Evelyn Page one spot back in 31st (25:25).

Oxbow’s girls, who took second at states last fall thanks to the stellar running of Izzy Giesing, now a freshman runner at UMass Lowell, finished in 12th place, led by senior Tyrus Rosten (20th; 23:59).

Bellows Falls’ girls won the D-III crown after a fifth-place finish one year ago. The Terriers’ Abby Broadley paced the field, finishing winning in 20:01. All four of Bellows Falls’ scoring runners placed in the top 10.

Conditions at Thetford’s course were less than ideal, with a steady wintry mix of snow and rain creating patches of slippery mud on downhill stretches. The conditions, in addition to the 30-degree temperatures, forced many runners to rethink their pre-race strategy.

“Obviously, I had to think about how I was going to dress because it was so cold,” Woodstock’s Bassette said. “Also, as a team, you have to match. It worked out; we chose the right thing to stay warm.”

Added Shepherd: “Conditions weren’t the best. … Coming down some of the grass hills, it was loose mud. I almost went down once, but for the most part it was pretty good. Everything with the grass was solid.”

The cold, however, didn’t seem to bother Deffner, who now has a first-place finish at states firmly in his possession.

“I was doing OK until about the first mile, then my face got really cold,” he said. “The slippery (grass) actually wasn’t too bad. I was wearing half-inch spikes. My whole head was cold, so I couldn’t really think. One of the things we talked about before the race was staying engaged and staying focused. I think there were points where I actually lost some of my focus.

“But I got it back toward the end.”

Josh Weinreb can be reached at jweinreb@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.