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WMass boys cross country: Northampton tops D1 field; Amherst’s Jack Yanko takes individual honors

  • Jack Yanko, of Amherst Regional, finishes first during the PVIAC cross country championships Nov. 4 at Stanley Park in Westfield. On Saturday, Yanko won the Western Massachusetts Division 1 championship. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Frontier's Alex Sharp runs down the final stretch to a fourth place finish during the Western Massachusetts Division II Cross Country Championship on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017 at Northfield Mountain. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Frontier Regional’s Carsten Carey runs down the final stretch to a second-place finish during the Western Massachusetts Division 2 Boys Cross Country meet, Saturday in Northfield. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE



For the Gazette
Saturday, November 11, 2017

NORTHFIELD — Depth was the difference for Northampton.

The Blue Devils emerged as Western Massachusetts Division 1 boys cross country champions, Saturday at Northfield Mountain Recreational Center. Northampton placed three runners among the top 10 en route to the title.

It was a bittersweet day for Amherst Regional. Jack Yanko won the D-1 individual title in 16 minutes, 21 seconds, but the Hurricanes missed qualifying for states as a team by one point.

Frontier Regional qualified for the state Division 2 meet for the third straight year after the Red Hawks secured second with 63 points, sandwiched between Berkshire County powers Mount Greylock (38) and Lenox (117).

Carsten Carey led the Red Hawks after he finished second in 17:20.

Northampton was led by Benjamin Gordon-Sniffen, who took third in 16:41. Nick Peterson finished fifth in 16:52 and Philip Hempstead was seventh in 16:56.

“This is what we were looking for,” Northampton coach Brandon Palmer said. “We had a late push in the race. We tried to run a little more conservative in the beginning. After a mile, I saw the boys come through and when I saw we had four guys in the top 10, that’s when we started making our move.”

This is Northampton’s fifth straight trip to the state meet.

“These guys were freshmen when we last won in Northfield,” Palmer said.

Gordon-Sniffen picked up from where he left off at the PVIAC race.

“Ben’s pretty impressive after making the transition from soccer,” Palmer said. “He pushes our pack and they lay it all on the line.”

The Blue Devils also got a big lift from Bobby Innes-Gold, who was 13th in 17:24 and Johnathan Dean, who was 16th 17:29.

Yanko ignored the cold weather and followed up his win at PVIACs with another impressive run.

“I kept thinking of my team and I just wanted to do my part,” Yanko said. “It was freezing and I tried to stay warm.”

Yanko pulled away with 150 meters to go to distance himself from a tight pack.

He beat runner-up Gabriel Medina of West Springfield by five seconds.

“After going up the hill in the first mile, there were a lot more guys in it, but after that, it was more of a pack race,” Yanko said.

Frontier’s top seven runners all got buzz cuts from teammate Ben Litskoski’s father, Rich, earlier in the week. Right after the haircuts, they sent a photo to coaches Bob Smith and Walt Flynn.

“We were all mentally and physically into this race,” Carey said “It was a team-building experience.”

That team-bonding moment worked wonders for the Red Hawks, who continued their string of postseason success.

“We’ve been building toward this for three years,” Smith said.

For years, Frontier’s boys team always took a back seat to the girls program, which was much more successful. But that has changed over the past three years thanks to a determined group of young men.

“It took a long time to get to where we are now,” Smith said. “This is a great group of boys. Four years ago, the seniors planted the seed and these guys just keep on working.”

Frontier’s Alex Sharp finished fourth in 17:37. Litskoski was 12th in 18:12. Peter Carey was 22nd in 18:37 and Daniel Dejnak was 26th 18:46.

“Alex has had a recurring hip problem all year long and he just gutted it out,” Smith said.

Carey, who did not compete in states last season due to injury, ran a strong race.

“He left it all out there and did what he had to do,” Smith said. “That was a great finish.”

Carey battled the cold and tough hills.

“I wish I had worn gloves – I couldn’t feel my hands at all,” he said. “I’m happy with my time – the last time I ran this course, I was in seventh grade. We did a lot of training together and we wanted this.”

Hampshire Regional sophomore Chris Vayda qualified for Division 2 states for the second straight year. He secured sixth in 17:49. Hampshire was seventh with 178 points.

“Chris has been really consistent all season,” Hampshire coach Sue Tracy said. “I can’t wait see how he keeps developing.”

Hampshire lost five of its top-10 runners to injuries and had to rely on young runners.

Hopkins Academy, which was ninth with 294 points, saw Owen Taravella place 25th in 18:45 and just miss qualifying for D-2 states.

Granby’s Andrew Hutchinson was 34th in 19:03. The Rams were 11th with 317 points.

Gateway Regional was led by Brandon Daniels, who was 43rd in 19:26. The Gators were 16th with 390 points.

In Division 1, Belchertown had the best team finish in program history. The Orioles were eighth (221), led by Evan Dunigan, who qualified for states by placing 20th in 17:47.

South Hadley was led by Joseph Werenski, who was 19th (17:36) and qualified for states. The Tigers were fifth (164).