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Gazette Cross Country Runners of the Year: Amherst Regional’s Anna Kaplan and Ryan Stender

  • Anna Kaplan, of Amherst Regional, has been named the Daily Hampshire Gazette Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year.

    Anna Kaplan, of Amherst Regional, has been named the Daily Hampshire Gazette Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year. Purchase photo reprints »

  • Ryan Stender, of Amherst Regional, has been named the Daily Hampshire Gazette Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year.

    Ryan Stender, of Amherst Regional, has been named the Daily Hampshire Gazette Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year. Purchase photo reprints »

  • Anna Kaplan, of Amherst Regional, has been named the Daily Hampshire Gazette Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year.
  • Ryan Stender, of Amherst Regional, has been named the Daily Hampshire Gazette Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year.

The Amherst Regional boys and girls cross country programs have been dominating the western Massachusetts landscape for decades.

The teams have always had talented runners who blend their abilities together to form deep, unbeatable squads.

At the front run the best and once again the Hurricanes had two of the top harriers in the sport this past season.

Senior Anna Kaplan placed her name among the program greats with a victory at the Western Massachusetts Division 1 championship.

Senior Ryan Stender placed third at the sectional meet, but he put together a fantastic run at the state meet to lead all of western Mass.

For their efforts, Kaplan and Stender have been named the Daily Hampshire Gazette Girls and Boys Cross Country Runners of the Year.

Kaplan said her team contributed to her success.

“I feel so lucky to have them,” she said. “Just having them there everyday, they definitely push me. It’s double the excitement when you can do well and your team can do well. It’s great.”

It’s Stender’s second straight honor. He entered his junior season as an unknown but blossomed into one of the area’s top harriers. His final season was an encore of sorts.

“Just being a senior made it different,” he said. In 2012, “I felt like, ‘Oh well. There’s next year. I can keep building.’ This year was just showing everyone what I have and what I have built over my career.”

Kaplan’s season took off following the Brown Invitational in Rhode Island. She placed seventh in the girls varsity 5K race in 18 minutes, 50 seconds.

“One of my goals was to break 19 (minutes) and I had not been close to that in the beginning of the season. At Brown, I did break 19 and my confidence was boosted a ton. In that race, it was one of the moments where it was ‘OK, things are going right.’ That gave me more confidence.”

Less than a month later Kaplan dominated the postseason races. She placed first in 19:00 at the PVIAC cross country championships, the won WMass in 19:56. She was 11th in 17:44 at the state Division 1 meet.

“The postseason from Brown Invite on, all of that I didn’t expect. That was really exciting,” Kaplan said. “My goal was to get faster but I had no idea how fast I could get. I just wanted to run as best as I could.”

Stender enjoyed being the No. 1 runner for Amherst.

“Being No. 1 is better than anything else,” Stender said. “Who doesn’t want to be No. 1? It’s motivation. I represent the team. I am the No. 1 Amherst runner.”

It was a different feeling this time around.

“I didn’t expect to be No. 1” junior year, Stender said. “This year was more I had to be No. 1 for the team and myself. I had to stay consistent and stay No. 1.”

Stender’s postseason started with a four-place finish at the PVIAC meet. He finished in 16:11 behind winner Sam Conway, of Minnechaug, Ben Doiron, of Westfield, and Liam Garvey, of West Springfield.

At the state meet, Stender was sixth in 14:46, Conway was 10th in 14:54, Garvey was 16th in 15:03. Doiron did not run.

“Being the first finisher from western Mass. and finishing in the top 10 was amazing,” Stender said. “It was a dream. I went into it and didn’t expect that but to get sixth and be first from western Mass, I was very proud to represent western Mass.”

Mike Moran can be reached at mmoran@gazettenet.com.

GIRLS FIRST TEAM

Grace Bailly, senior, South Hadley

Caitlin Burnett, sophomore, Frontier Regional

Julie Carroll, sophomore, Holyoke Catholic

Ariel Christie, sophomore, Amherst Regional

Emma Gonzalez, junior, Amherst Regional

Sarah Jones, senior, Holyoke Catholic

Anna Kaplan, senior, Amherst Regional

Tori Laverdiere, sophomore, Northampton

Hannah Lebowitz, sophomore, Amherst Regional

Mariel Lutz, junior, Northampton

Margaret Mahoney, junior, Northampton

Sophia Prouty, eighth grade, Hampshire Regional

Amanda Riley, junior, Amherst Regional

Serena Sarage, junior, South Hadley

Valerie Willocq, senior, Amherst Regional

BOYS FIRST TEAM

Kyle Bean, senior, Hampshire Regional

Davis Britland, sophomore, Gateway Regional

Tyler Cox, senior, Holyoke Catholic

Connor Evans, junior, Amherst Regional

Benjamin Hill, junior, Northampton

Tim Foldy-Porto, junior, Northampton

Aidan Gilson, junior, Northampton

Isaac Lello-Smith, senior, Northampton

Mike Sears, junior, Hampshire Regional

Ryan Stender, senior, Amherst Regional

Allen Vance, junior, Amherst Regional

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