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Mel Devoney, Amherst girls win Division 1 cross country

  • Amherst's Mel Devoney won the Girl's Division 1 Western Mass Championship by a significant margin Saturday at Northfield Mountain Recreation Facility in Northfield.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS

    Amherst's Mel Devoney won the Girl's Division 1 Western Mass Championship by a significant margin Saturday at Northfield Mountain Recreation Facility in Northfield.
    JOSH KUCKENS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Amherst's Mel Devoney won the Girl's Division 1 Western Mass Championship by a significant margin Saturday at Northfield Mountain Recreation Facility in Northfield.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS

    Amherst's Mel Devoney won the Girl's Division 1 Western Mass Championship by a significant margin Saturday at Northfield Mountain Recreation Facility in Northfield.
    JOSH KUCKENS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Amherst's Mel Devoney won the Girl's Division 1 Western Mass Championship by a significant margin Saturday at Northfield Mountain Recreation Facility in Northfield.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS
  • Amherst's Mel Devoney won the Girl's Division 1 Western Mass Championship by a significant margin Saturday at Northfield Mountain Recreation Facility in Northfield.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS

Mel Devoney’s motivation was a little more tangible. It came in the form of Westfield’s Ally Morin.

“At the PVIAC (championships) last week, Ally Morin really scared me because she beat me and I had a really bad race then,” Devoney said of her third-place finish behind Frontier’s Natalie Mako and Morin. “I never run with anybody, so I was actually hoping to run with her the race and then try to break off from her, but that didn’t happen. That’s not a bad thing.”

No, when running so fast leaves the top competition in the dust, it’s not a bad thing at all.

When Devoney crossed the finish line Saturday at Northfield Mountain Recreation Center in 19 minutes, 34 seconds, she was the Western Massachusetts Division 1 champion and the spark that led Amherst to a team victory with 31 points.

“I’m not sure if she realizes it, but she’s the entire reason this team is fast. She pulls people so much,” said teammate Sara Vannah, who finished fourth for the Hurricanes (20:38). “There’s a million different kinds of ways to be fast. Mel’s fast in a way that she brings everyone forward.”

Morin finished second (19:41), followed by Longmeadow’s Manon Blackman (20:35).

Pittsfield finished second (88 points), with Northampton (121), Longmeadow (126) and Ludlow (137) filling out the top five. South Hadley (174) and Belchertown (312) finished seventh and 12th, respectively.

As much as Devoney motivated her teammates, they did the same for her.

“I actually felt better than I have most races because I usually feel horrible before races. But this time I focused more on trying to be connected with the team instead of freaking out inside myself and it helped a lot. I had a way better attitude at the beginning,” she said. “I think the most important part of our team is that we all love running, and it hasn’t usually been like that in races for me. So to end on a good note, even if I hadn’t finished where I wanted to, I wanted to have fun with it.”

What made the feat more impressive is that this is just Devoney’s second year running cross country. The senior played soccer her first two years of high school.

“She’s still learning. She’s still new,” Amherst coach Eric Nazar said. “She’s really been wanting this and hopeful that she’d have a great race. She didn’t want to focus on time, she didn’t want to focus on the fact that she had a good shot to win, she just wanted to go out there and run and feel the race and she did a great job with it.

“We wanted to be conservative that first mile. She was not. She took that first mile hard. And so I had a moment of worry, but I trusted her and she trusted herself and I think that’s a really good lesson. I’m excited to see what she can do next week, and what all of us can do next week with that bigger field.”

For Nazar, the race served as more of a test run for next week’s state championships, which will take place on the same course.

“We wanted to see what we could do on the course. In some ways, we’re a veteran team because we have people that have been on the team for awhile, but we also have relatively new runners up in the front,” Nazar said. “So we wanted to see what we could do and they did great.”

Amherst had four of the top seven runners, with Devoney and Vannah being joined by Emmy Zimmerman (sixth, 20:49) and Anna Kaplan (seventh, 20:52).

“We need to improve to win it, but we can improve,” Nazar said. “I feel good about where we’re at today and I’m excited to see what we can do next week.”

Eliana Zimmerman finished ninth for Northampton (21:11), while Grace Bailly (21:22) took 12th for South Hadley.

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