Thetford Academy dominates state meet with teams laden with kids new to the sport

  • Madelyn Durkee competes in the long jump at the Windsor Invitational on April 30, 2022. (Linnea Spelman photograph) Linnea Spelman photographs

  • Tobin Durham en route to winning the 1500 meters at the VPA Division III state championships. (Linnea Spelman photograph) —Copyright 2016 LSpelman

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 6/21/2022 4:55:35 AM
Modified: 6/21/2022 4:55:15 AM

Joel Breakstone and Emily Silver knew they had a talented group on their hands. The co-head coaches of the Thetford Academy track and field team had guided the Panthers to VPA Division III state championships in 2019 and 2021 — for both the boys and girls — sandwiched around the canceled 2020 season. But this year, nearly half the roster for both genders had never done track before.

It didn’t matter. Thetford dominated the state meet on June 4, with the boys finishing 49 points ahead of second-place Woodstock and the girls a whopping 81 points in front of second-place Lake Region.

“We were really excited to see what they could do,” Breakstone said. “It was a case of a lot of progression over the course of the season. We’ve always said our goals are to have fun and to have individuals improve as much as possible, and then try to score as many points as possible at the end of the season and win a couple state championships. That message has been the same throughout, and this year it worked out pretty well.”

Thetford is home to a well-known cross country course, the Woods Trail, which annually hosts the VPA state championships and also hosts the New England championships on a rotating basis. But the campus does not have a track, so the coaches build a makeshift loop around the soccer field with cones around the perimeter for practices.

The field event athletes have it easier — the school grounds contain a long jump pit, pole vault pit and throwing circles for the discus, shot put and javelin. The Panthers also held two practices at the Hanover High track this season for the hurdlers.

“The training is almost more for their heads than their bodies,” Silver said. “We err on the side of doing less rather than more physically (before the championships). For the field event-ers, more just touching up and polishing skills. For the distance runners, short runs on flats only, no hills. Low volume reminders about eating, sleeping, so that they are well-trained and ready for the event, and they have every reason to go in confident.”

Junior Madelyn Durkee won the individual title in both the girls’ 400- and 800-meter runs and was second in the 100 and the long jump. Sophomore Charlize Brown had a trio of second-place finishes, in the 200, 400 and pole vault. Freshman Ava Hayden won the 3,000 for Thetford, with senior Madison Powers claiming the 300 hurdles. Another senior, Kiran Black, won the triple jump.

Brown, a member of the Panthers’ state championship cross country team in the fall along with Durkee, said she enjoys transitioning from longer races to sprints.

She also finished second in the Vermont high school decathlon championship on June 13 and 14 to help the Thetford girls take first as a team, beating out schools from Divisions I and II.

“From cross country, we did seven miles of training and workouts, and then going to super fast acceleration sprints, it is weird, but I enjoy it,” Brown said. “For some reason, it goes fairly smoothly. Mr. (Joseph) Deffner, the cross country coach, said that at the end of every three-mile race, my last 400 is always really fast and really good. I believe that helped carry me into doing good 400-meter races during track and field.”

At the New England championships in New Britain, Conn. on June 11, Brown finished 15th in the 400, coming within 13 hundredths of a second of breaking one minute. Durkee did go under a minute in that event, finishing 12th in 59.64 seconds.

For the boys, senior Gus Byrne took first in the 100 and 200, with fellow senior Tobin Durham winning the 1,500. Junior Finn Linehan claimed the pole vault title and freshman Uly Junker-Boyce won the long jump. Junker-Boyce went on to compete at the Nike Outdoor Nationals in Eugene, Ore., this past weekend, finishing fourth in the freshman boys long jump at 6.12 meters.

Senior Mason Lefevre shined for the Panthers as well, taking second in the shot put and third in the discus. He was also a member of Thetford’s 4x100 relay team that set a school record — one of eight the Panthers set over the course of the season across all events.

“Being a small school, we’re really connected to each other,” Lefevre said. “We’re always pushing each other to do the very best they can, and always making sure people show up for the right things during practice, getting the right kind of training that they need and supporting them. At the state meet, there was a lot screaming — everyone walked away with destroyed lungs at the end, because we screamed so loud.”

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

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