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Boys Cross Country Player of the Year: Ryan Stender of Amherst Regional

Ryan Stender had two top-10 finishes in the postseason and led Amherst Regional to second place at the Western Massachusetts Division 1 championship. Stender has been named the Daily Hampshire Gazette Player of the Year in boys cross country.

Ryan Stender had two top-10 finishes in the postseason and led Amherst Regional to second place at the Western Massachusetts Division 1 championship. Stender has been named the Daily Hampshire Gazette Player of the Year in boys cross country. Purchase photo reprints »

Ryan Stender was true to his word.

The Amherst Regional junior proclaimed at the end of his sophomore year that he would be the No. 1 runner for the boys cross country team come September.

He was right.

Stender was the lead runner all season for the perennial contenders and he had top-10 finishes at the two western Massachusetts postseason meets. For his efforts, Stender has been named the Daily Hampshire Gazette Player of the Year.

Graduation left a void at the top for the cross country team. After track season last year, Stender made it known he would fill the role.

“It was the main goal for me for the whole summer,” Stender said. “It was work hard, train hard and really be Amherst’s No. 1 and represent the team.”

With more established runners returning, it was wait-and-see for coach Chris Gould.

“When he said it we more or less said more power to you,” Gould said. “Just because you said it doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. He put his money where his mouth is.”

Long, grueling, summer workouts increased his strength and endurance. Stender trained a lot with former assistant coach Todd Walker, who now coaches at Holyoke High.

“I made it a point to run every day,” Stender said. “I would credit a lot of my strength in cross country to him because we ran hard mountain runs at the Holyoke Range and Mount Lincoln in Pelham.”

The work paid off.

In the season’s second big meet on Oct. 6, Stender finished 15th at the 22nd annual Woods Trail Run, a 5-kilometer event held at Thetford (Vt.) Academy.

“Before that we had the Amherst Invite and I had a crummy race there,” Stender said. “I had fallen in the beginning and that was the first big meet. Thetford was two weeks later and I had used it as my chance to do the best I could and I did well. I saw how I stood on a wider scale.”

A couple of weeks later Stender placed 23rd at the Brown Invitational in Kingston, R.I.

“He’s mild-mannered in life but fierce on the course,” Gould said. “He did not back down from challenges no matter who was out there.”

Stender stood out during the postseason races.

As a sophomore, Stender was 52nd at the PVIAC championships. He did not compete at the Western Massachusetts meet because the Hurricanes, who won the title, were too deep.

This season, Stender was sixth in 16 minutes, 20 seconds at PVIAC.

“It was exciting for me to finish sixth,” Stender said. “Top 25 would have been great but I got Top 10. It was amazing to me. It was a great race and I was very proud.”

Stender then placed eighth in 17:00.21 to lead the Hurricanes to a second-place finish at the Western Massachusetts Division 1 championship. Other than training runs, it was the first time Stender raced Northfield Mountain’s 5k course.

“Looking at the course from a training aspect, it’s a hard training course but you know it’s training,” he said. “When you’re racing on it it’s a challenge still but you see the reward at the end.”

At the state meet, held one week later at Northfield, Stender placed 50th (17:07.87). However, he was more thrilled about achieving a teenage milestone than his performance at the meet.

“I was more excited about getting my driver’s license than states,” he said. “I got there and I was like, well, of course I want to do well but I just got my driver’s license.

“It was a good race and my time was slower than at Western Mass, which was a little bit of a bummer, but it was still consistent, only six seconds slower,” he added. “I approached the course the same way I just don’t think I had as much in me.”

With another season to go, Stender will be focused on keeping his No. 1 status. “I’m going to work hard again, but step it up another level and work even harder,” he said.

Mike Moran can be reached at mmoran@gazettenet.com. Follow on Twitter @mikemoranDHG.

FIRST TEAM

John Burton, senior, Belchertown

Tyler Cox, sophomore, Holyoke Catholic

Brandon Cross, senior, Hampshire Regional

Connor Evans, sophomore, Amherst Regional

Gabe Fishman, senior, Amherst Regional

Aidan Gilson, sophomore, Northampton

Benjamin Hill, sophomore, Northampton

Mike Sears, sophomore, Hampshire Regional

Ryan Stender, junior, Amherst Regional

Owen Wright, freshman. Amherst Regional

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