Compiled by GREG LAUDANI and DOUG RODOSKI
Senior co-captain Laura Rose Donegan finished 17th overall at the Boston Coast-to-Coast meet on Friday afternoon at Boston’s Franklin Park, leading the Wildcats to a 10th-place finish.
Donegan started off slowly by her own standards, and fell behind early in the race. She recovered to capture her best time ever at Franklin Park in 17:28. She said she was pleased with the way she was able to recover in the season’s most competitive meet thus far.
UNH head coach Robert Hoppler said 24 of the best programs in the country competed in the meet, including four America East schools: the University at Albany, Stony Brook University, UMass-Lowell, University of Hartford and the University of Maine.
“The start wasn’t fantastic and I ended up pretty far back in the field at the first mile or so,” she said. “I worked really hard the whole race to pass as many people as I could and ended up really happy with where I finished.”
Amber Short finished second for the Wildcats and 27th overall in 17:38. Samantha Blais crossed the finish line next for New Hampshire in 18:10 for 74th overall. Then Brianna Boden took 76th in 18:12.
UNH head coach Robert Hoppler said the team as a whole had a difficult time starting the race at top speed. He placed the blame on his shoulders and said it is on him to help his team execute a better start to races.
“Part of the start is they have to be prepared to get a good start,” he said. “You go from just standing there to running across a field. It’s all part of the progression of the season and something I need to improve on.”
Sometimes it is not a bad thing when everything does not go perfectly, according to Hoppler. The head coach said he was proud of the way his team responded after starting slow on Friday afternoon.
“Sometimes in these early season meets you almost want to see mistakes to see what we can work on,” he said. “They ran really well, really hard and competitively in the second part of the race.”
Donegan echoed her coach about how the Wildcats battled back when things were not going their way.
“I was really happy with the way everyone responded,” she said. “The way we responded and the way we all stayed focused and worked together shows that with a better start, everything is there for us to be successful.”
Next up for UNH is the New England Cross Country Championships on Saturday, Oct. 10, also at Franklin Park in Boston. The Wildcats have won the meet each of the last two seasons.
UNH will not run its top six runners, instead challenging some of the younger runners to get the job done.
“They are going to have to step up in a championship environment,” Hoppler said. “I’m going to run that next group of kids who are trying to get better for the future. This group is the athletes that we’re going to build around for next year.”
Hoppler said the UNH cross-country program is all about developing athletes, and that’s what the team is focused on doing at the New England Championships.
“It’s a really important way to test this group in high-level championship competition,” he said. “We’re always building for the future.”
The UNH men’s cross-country team competed against 20 other schools at Franklin Park in Boston on Friday, Sept. 25. Six of the Wildcats’ runners finished the 8-kilometer race in under 27 minutes, as the team placed 19th overall.
Leading the Wildcats were seniors Brandon McCarthy and Sam Gagnon, who placed 91st and 92nd in the field of 189 runners. Both runners crossed the finish line at 25-minutes-35-seconds, with McCarthy finishing just ahead of Gagnon on the official ranking list. UNH’s top five finishers were rounded out by junior Mitchell Dutton in 25:56, sophomore Ryan Chiesa at 26:25, and freshman Cody Symonds with a time of 26:44. The trio placed 121st, 147th and 162nd, respectively, to give the Wildcats a final tally of 523 points.
In total, nine men from the cross-country roster ran at the meet.
The UNH coaching staff was happy to have Gagnon return to action this season; the Hooksett, New Hampshire, native was forced to miss his last two seasons because of injuries.
Head coach Jim Boulanger is in his 33rd season as the coordinator of the men’s and women’s cross-country and track and field programs. He pointed out that there was a 1-minute-nine-second space between his first- and fifth-place runners.
“We want to get that gap between the first and fifth spots under one minute,” he said.
The team prepares for a return trip to Franklin Park for the 2015 New England Cross-Country Championship on Saturday, Oct. 10. The start time for the meet has not yet been announced.
The Wildcats are ultimately eyeing the America East Conference Championships on Oct. 31, at Stony Brook University.