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Natalie Mako sets sights on state cross country title

The state cross country championships will take place at Northfield Mountain Recreation Center on Saturday, and Frontier Regional senior Natalie Mako will attempt to do what she’s done at every meet this season — win.

Mako qualified for the Division 2 state meet by winning the sectional championship. It was her ninth win in nine races and she set a meet record in the process.

“It meant so much to me,” Mako said. “I’ve been watching girls run that race since second grade, and to win it was just amazing.”

Mako will attempt to become the first girl from western Mass. to win states since Hampshire Regional’s Katheryn Marvel won in 2003.

It won’t be easy for Mako. She finished 16th last season, and only five of the runners ahead of her were seniors.

“It’s going to be a lot different,” Mako said. “I think the level of competition will definitely be really good.”

Last season’s race was at Franklin Park in Boston. Saturday’s championship is at the site where Mako dominated last weekend.

But, instead of worrying about her chances of winning, Mako simply wants to enjoy the race.

“I honestly just want to do the best I can and give it my all,” said Mako.

Meanwhile, Amherst will go for its first Division 1 state girls title since 2005.

“This is the first team I’ve coached with a legitimate shot at winning it,” four-year coach Eric Nazar said. “The level of competition this year demands that we run really well and we’re ready to do that.”

Mel Devoney leads Amherst. The senior is coming off an individual victory at Northfield.

“It’s just such a pleasure to have Mel on the team, she’s certainly the fastest runner I’ve coached,” said Nazar.

Amherst won its 21st sectional title out of the last 24 years last weekend. The Hurricanes won four straight state championships between 2002 and 2005.

“For us there’s a real joy in running and that’s the first thing I teach the new runners,” said Nazar. “We have 40 girls that love to run and I don’t think most other teams in the state could say that.”

The Amherst boys will join the girls in the D1 state meet.

The Hurricanes finished second to Westfield at WMass.

“I’ll be honest, all we wanted was second, we had no illusions of finishing first,” said Amherst coach Chris Gould, who added that he thought Westfield had a chance to compete for a state title.

Ryan Stender leads the Hurricanes.

“He’s been great,” Gould said. “He decided at the end of track last year that he wanted to be the top man, and he’s done that.”

The D1 girls race starts at 11 a.m. and will be followed by the D2 girls (11:40 a.m.), D1 boys (12:20 p.m.) and D2 boys (1 p.m.).

Also competing are:

In boys Division 1: John Burton of Belchertown and Ben Hill of Northampton.

In girls Division 1: Northampton team, Grace Bailly of South Hadley.

In boys Division 2: Mike Sears of Hampshire Regional.

In girls Division 2: Katie Clark of Gateway Regional, Sophia Prouty and Elizabeth Wood of Hampshire.

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