Hopkinton High School boys cross country coach Jennifer Fairbanks expected her team to be among the best, if not the best, in the Tri-Valley League. But a recent victory in the Ocean State Invitational against teams from all over New England proved a pleasant surprise for the coach and a sign of just how strong the Hillers are this fall.
“I think we went in hoping to be in the top five, so it was a nice surprise,” Fairbanks said of the Sept. 28 meet. “There were about 30 teams and some of my younger runners asked me how I thought the varsity team was going to do. I knew it would be good competition, and I was thinking we might place in the top five.”
Alex Brown finished second overall in that meet and has been pacing the field in many of the Hillers’ TVL meets this fall. Brown broke the Hopkinton course record last year and also broke Holliston’s course record this fall. He went into last Tuesday’s home meet with one more shot to lower his own fastest time in the history of his team’s home course.
His brother, Nick Brown, a junior, joined the program this year and has been one of the top four runners.
“It’s a good two-brother punch,” Fairbanks said.
Veteran runners Ian Cann and Cody Ottinger have given the Hillers exceptional depth. Against Holliston, Hopkinton took home the first seven places in the meet.
“We have a lot of runners who are under that 20-minute mark,” Fairbanks said. “If we can get a good number of runners under 20 minutes for three miles, that’s really good. We have the depth there.”
The depth goes beyond the top seven runners, Fairbanks said.
“We have 11 or 12 really strong runners,” she said. “If somebody gets injured, we have someone to step right up.”
Hopkinton ran through the TVL dual meet slate unbeaten, claiming the league title in the process. The program has 50 athletes this fall, including 26 who are new to the team from all grades. Some of the top runners are upperclassmen, and this is a season Fairbanks has been excited about for some time now.
“I knew when these guys came in as freshmen that we were going to be really good,” she said. “We have been building up to their senior year and it’s nice to see it come to fruition.”
The younger athletes have benefited tremendously from working with the experienced runners, the coach added.
Fairbanks is in her 13th year as coach of the program and she knows her team will be competing in the state meet and at least some runners will be running in the all-state meet. Getting an entire team to that final meet is something she hopes will happen this fall.
“Over the years I have taken a runner here and there, I have never taken a full team there,” Fairbanks said.
She thinks this team is good enough to finally check that accomplishment off in 2019.
“I think we can do it if we can stay healthy,” Fairbanks said. “We have the times, we have the depth, and we have the speed.”