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Natalie Mako of Frontier runs to first, record in Division 2

  • Frontier Regional's Natalie Mako won the Girl's Division 2 Western Mass Championship Saturday at Northfield Mountain Recreation Facility in Northfield.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS

    Frontier Regional's Natalie Mako won the Girl's Division 2 Western Mass Championship Saturday at Northfield Mountain Recreation Facility in Northfield.
    JOSH KUCKENS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Frontier Regional's Natalie Mako (Far Right) jumps out to an early lead in the Girl's Division 2 Western Mass Championship Saturday at Northfield Mountain Recreation Facility in Northfield.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS

    Frontier Regional's Natalie Mako (Far Right) jumps out to an early lead in the Girl's Division 2 Western Mass Championship Saturday at Northfield Mountain Recreation Facility in Northfield.
    JOSH KUCKENS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Frontier Regional's Natalie Mako won the Girl's Division 2 Western Mass Championship Saturday at Northfield Mountain Recreation Facility in Northfield.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS
  • Frontier Regional's Natalie Mako (Far Right) jumps out to an early lead in the Girl's Division 2 Western Mass Championship Saturday at Northfield Mountain Recreation Facility in Northfield.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS

The Frontier Regional senior continued her unbeaten season by winning the Western Massachusetts Division 2 Girls Cross Country Championship in impressive fashion. Her 19 minutes, 19 seconds finish not only distanced herself from the competition (she finished 44 seconds ahead of Mount Greylock’s Emily Kaegi); it broke the meet record at Northfield Mountain Recreation Center by two seconds.

The old record was set by Pittsfield’s Allison Johnson in 2001. Marblehead’s Shalane Flanagan, an Olympic bronze medalist in the 10,000 meters, set the state record of 17:54 in 2003.

Mako “hasn’t lost a race in this season. I’ve never had an athlete who could say that in cross country. This is my 34th season, and I’ve had some really great women runners, but none finer than Natalie. She just goes out, opens it up, puts it into the top gear and just stays there and doesn’t look back,” Frontier coach Bob Smith said. “We didn’t plan to have her win today. We planned for her to have fun and to qualify for (the state championships) next week. Whatever happened would be extra. And we got a whole lot of extra.”

While Mako didn’t realize she was chasing the record, she was getting motivation by thinking about another former runner who dominated the Northfield course: Longmeadow’s Camile Blackman, who won the individual title in 2010 and 2011.

“Camile Blackman was my idol. She still is my idol. She’s an amazing runner and I tried to go for around her times, in the 19:20s,” Mako said. “I felt like I could have gone faster. It was a hard course and I wish I had something to push me a little bit more, but I had to do the best I could and I ran the fastest I could at the time.”

Behind Mako, Frontier finished sixth with 168 points. Lenox (78) won the team competition, followed by Mount Greylock (89), Monument Mountain (125) and Hampshire Regional (130). Holyoke Catholic (180), Gateway (308) and Granby (397) finished seventh, 12th and 16th respectively.

Hampshire was led by Elizabeth Woods (21:31) and Sophia Prouty (21:40), who finished ninth and 11th, respectively, while Katie Clark came in 10th for Gateway in 21:38.

While the Northfield course is challenging, with a daunting hill early in the race, it proved to be to Mako’s advantage, as the Red Hawks often practice on the course and have grown used to its unique nature.

“I love running in the woods. I think it’s so much fun. It’s a tough course. To do well on it, it’s hard. You can’t just sit back and relax when you’re on this course. You really have to go at it,” Mako said. “My team comes here all the time. It’s my favorite place to be.”

The fact that the state championships will take place on the same course in a week could play into Mako’s advantage.

“We try to come up once a week. Just because that first big hill is pretty formidable. The way we figured is, the more times we come up, the smaller the hill gets,” Smith said. “I don’t think the state coaches like to have it out here because this is a hard and a really great cross country course. I think for some of them, it’s like, ‘Oh my God, I’ve never seen a course like this.’ But for us, coming many times, it’s almost like home. And I think that works to our advantage.”

The course’s difficulty could also provide a different sort of challenge for Mako, who missed or was hampered much of last season because of a stress fracture in her leg.

“She’s got a little bit of an advantage in that she knows the course, but it’s a disadvantage, I think, to have to run here two weeks in a row. This is a tough course. It takes a long time to recover from this,” Smith said. “That’s one of the things great about Natalie is that she’s come to understand the process of recovery. We’re really careful about how we train and she’s very careful so never falls back into that injury that she had before.”

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