Shrewsbury – Injuries have forced some lineup juggling, but the St. John's cross country team remains in stride despite the upheaval.
The Pioneers entered the week with an 8-0 dual meet record and on Oct. 20 captured their third straight Class A Wachusett Invitational championship.
St. John's is led by the consistent performances of its top two runners – sophomore Ben Perron and senior co-captain Brian Clark.
Perron finished third overall at the Wachusett Invitational, while Clark was right on his heels, finishing fourth.
"Ben was our top freshman last year. He had a terrific summer and when he came back this year there was really no question that he was our No. 1 runner," Pioneers coach Raul Laborde said.
"As for Brian, it seemed like he had a breakthrough during spring track in the mile, running a 4:35, and it seemed to make him realize that there was more left that he wanted to accomplish," Laborde said. "He ran about 70 miles a week all summer and all that hard work is really paying off for him – and us – this season."
Co-captain Brian Clark certainly has the bloodlines to be a successful runner. His three older brothers attended St. John's with Matt Clark running cross country for the Pioneers as a senior, and following that up by continuing to run competitively at UMass-Amherst. His sister, Caitlyn Clark, was a standout runner at St. Peter- Marian and Assumption. Clark's cousins – Steve, Dan and Pat Gemme all ran at St. John's as well.
Junior Cam Tieuli is currently penciled in the No. 3 slot for Laborde.
"I thought he was going to be our No.1 runner but he suff ered a hamstring injury very early on and now has developed shin splints as well," Laborde said. "He's been keeping in shape by swimming and is hoping to return to running in time to compete in districts."
Juniors also occupy spots four, five and six, in the forms of Kevin Turner, Cam Tieuli's twin brother, Chris Tieuli, and Paul Kearney. Kearney is out right now, also suff ering from shin splints.
Senior Chris Chaves is seventh on the Pioneers depth chart, and is followed by freshman Dan Zawalich, junior Travis McKenzie, senior co-captain Rob Hayden and senior Will Sutton.
Zawalich won the freshman race at the Wachusett Invitational, while McKenzie won the junior varsity race.
Despite how things may look on paper, Laborde said Nashoba Regional, followed closely by Westborough and Gardner, will be the teams to beat at next month's Central Mass. Division 1 Cross Country Championships.
"Nashoba is definitely the team to beat," Laborde said. "Four of their runners covered the course in under 13 minutes, and Westborough had three runners finish sub- 13 as well. We had two."
For Nashoba, senior Anthony Raduazo led the way, covering the 2.4-mile course in 12:18 and finishing first in the Class B portion of the race. He was followed by teammate Joe Doyle, a junior who finished in 12:28. Sophomore Brendan Avlaian was sixth in the Class B race, in 12:40, while classmate Corey Horowitz came in seventh, in 12:49.
For Westborough, sophomore Byron Jones finished third in the Class B race, in 12:35. Westborough sophomore Jeff Bush was eighth in 12:53 and senior Dave Brown was ninth in 12:59.
By contrast, St. John's had just Perron (12:36) and Clark (12:51) cover the course in less than 13 minutes.