WMass Division 1 XC: Tobias L’Esperance takes first place to lead champion Northampton

  • The Northampton boys cross country team celebrates its Western Massachusetts Division 1 championship at Northfield Mountain on Saturday, Nov. 9. 2019 STAFF PHOTO/GAGE NUTTER

  • Tobias L’Esperance, of Northampton, finishing first at Northfield Mountain on Saturday, Nov. 9 2019. STAFF PHOTO/GAGE NUTTER

  • Evan Dunigan, of Belchertown, finishing second at Northfield Mountain on Saturday, Nov. 9 2019. STAFF PHOTO/GAGE NUTTER

  • Simon LaClair, of Northampton, finishing third at Northfield Mountain on Saturday, Nov. 9 2019. STAFF PHOTO/GAGE NUTTER

  • Tim Jacques, of Northampton, finishing fourth at Northfield Mountain on Saturday, Nov. 9 2019. STAFF PHOTO/GAGE NUTTER

  • Bradyn Cote, of South Hadley, finishing fifth at Northfield Mountain on Saturday, Nov. 9 2019. STAFF PHOTO/GAGE NUTTER

  • Walter Tebbetts, of Amherst Regional, finishing sixth at Northfield Mountain on Saturday, Nov. 9 2019. STAFF PHOTO/GAGE NUTTER

  • The Amherst Regional boys cross country team with its runner-up trophy at Northfield Mountain on Saturday, Nov. 9 2019. STAFF PHOTO/GAGE NUTTER

Staff Writer
Published: 11/9/2019 10:03:19 PM

NORTHFIELD — As Tobias L’Esperance ran toward the finish line, he looked over his right shoulder.

With nobody in sight, he looked forward, smiled and threw his arms into the air.

The Northampton senior placed first in 16 minutes, 46.71 seconds at the Western Massachusetts Division 1 Boys Cross Country Championship, Saturday at Northfield Mountain.

Spurred by three top-four finishers, the Blue Devils took the team title with 41 points. Amherst Regional placed second with 63 points. Longmeadow took third (120).

Belchertown placed fourth with 151. South Hadley was 13th.

Northampton, Amherst and Longmeadow qualified for the state meet at Gardner Municipal Golf Course on Nov. 16.

“It was kind of the ideal race. Me and my boy Simon (LaClair) were grinding,” L’Esperance said. “It was mostly me and him until the mile and a half point. It was the iconic senior year thing. ... It feels really good to take the win.”

Seniors took the top six places and 10 out of the top 11.

LaClair (17:10.01) finished third and teammate Tim Jacques finished fourth (17:12.11).

Belchertown’s Evan Dunigan placed second in 17:03.07. South Hadley’s Bradyn Cote (17:14.31) placed fifth and led the way for the Tigers (13th, 330).

Dunigan, Cote and Holyoke’s Jack Shea (11th, 17:34.93) qualified as individuals for the state meet.

“After the first uphill and around the first mile I was able to push it,” Dunigan said. “I didn’t go out hard at all. I wanted to start slow and finish fast. At about a mile and a half that is when I really got up to the Northampton kids.”

The 3.1-mile course at Northfield Mountain is known for the hill in the first mile of the race. L’Esperance felt confident once he reached the top of the hill.

“Simon and I were in first by the end of the hill,” L’Esperance said. “I just kept trying to turn on the nozzle a bit on him, speeding up a little bit at a time until I was in first. Then I just opened it up.”

L’Esperance and LaClair finished first and second, respectively, at the PVIAC Championships at Stanley Park on Oct. 26. The duo have dominated the leaderboards throughout the season.

“We’ve got two seniors that have been leading the team the whole year,” Northampton coach Dave Reinhart said. “They’ve got four years of cross country and track experience. That is what you expect by the time they are seniors. They delivered today like they have all year.”

The Blue Devils lost to Amherst at last year’s championship by one point. Northampton’s coaching staff made sure their runners were as prepared as possible for Saturday’s championship .

“We have done that first mile so many times that we know where every salamander is,” Reinhart said. “We know where every root and rock is, so they aren’t intimidated by this course. When your practices are harder than the races, the boys will feel confidence.”

The Amherst coaching staff knew taking first again at this year’s championship would be a tall task.

“I had this arbitrary goal of getting within 20 (of Northampton),” Amherst coach Chris Gould said. “Didn’t quite get it, but a lot better than the PVIAC Championship. ... We looked way better at the finish line than at the hill. That’s the order that you want things in. All the runners that I was shouting to with two-thirds of a mile to go really responded. We picked up a lot of points. Not enough to beat Northampton, but I felt like they had good guts from that two-plus mile mark to the finish line. I’m really proud that we gave Northampton a good run at it. ... You watch (Northampton) and see some of those guys are thoroughbreds and they’re taking full advantage of it. That’s the way it ought to be.”

Walter Tebbetes (sixth, 17:27.05), Noah Johansson (ninth, 17:34.07), Ryan Yanko (13th, 17:39.29), Willem Goff (14th, 17:49.81) and Griffin Jones (24th, 18:22.16) were the Hurricanes’ top five.

Amherst came into the season depleted of some of its top talent from last fall, but still found a way to put together a dominant regular season that saw the program win the Valley North title.

“This varsity team I have has exceeded expectations for me,” Gould said. “I didn’t think we would have the confidence and ability to run the way we have all season long. I’m really proud of them.”

Moving to the state meet, Amherst is just looking to put together a competitive effort.

“We are always looking to crack into the top 10,” Gould said. “If we get into the top-15, it would be a strong effort for us.”

South Hadley sophomore Jacob Broyles (22nd, 18:15.24) and Belchertown junior Derek Rose (23rd, 18:15.60) missed qualifying for the state meet by less than three seconds.

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