BENNINGTON -- After the Mount Anthony Union High School boys cross-country finished fourth in Division I last season at the state meet at Thetford Woods, this year’s team is looking to match or better that mark after a tough regular season.
The Patriots competed in six invitational races, including Burnt Hills and Greenwich in New York -- a couple of the most prestigious meets in the Capital Region. As the season has rolled on, the times are improving and they are peaking at exactly the right moment.
"We finished third (boys) and fourth (girls) out of 18 teams at Greenwich," said MAU coach Jim Dulin. "We’ve had a couple of good days at practice and the kids are upbeat and ready to let it rip."
Both boys and girls teams won the Marble Valley League this season in a runaway, so Dulin said taking advantage of the competition over the state border has been important.
"We get a taste of races outside the MVL, other teams aren’t doing that," Dulin said. "Instead of being the big fish in a little pond, we’re the little fish in the bigger pond."
The top two runners on the boys side are Will Buckley and Andrew Brandmeyer.
Brandmeyer was 29th at the state meet last year, running the race in 18 minutes, 29.6 seconds. He cut more than 13 seconds off that time at the most recent Thetford race earlier this month.
Buckley was 48th, but he led the Patriot contingent three weeks ago with a run of 18:01, almost a minute faster then his state mark.
"Will likes the course, and with more competitors there, he could definitely have a good race," Dulin said. "Andrew was fourth overall at the Greenwich meet. It’s tough to tell who would come through [first]."
A big key to success on a team level will be the grouping of runners. Team scores are figured on the top five runners from the school. Andy Barlow, Dakota Obenauer, Matt Strano and Andy Seward could all crack the scoring for the Patriots.
"As long as those guys are within a minute of each other, that could give us a strong team score," Dulin said.
To qualify for New Englands, a team must finish in the top six of all three divisions. Individual qualifiers must finish in the top 25.
The girls were 10th last year, with Erin Anderson finishing as the top Patriot runner, and the newest crop of Patriots aim to repeat that top 10 spot.
Erica Hale and Molly O’Callaghan look to carry the Patriot flag into the state meet. Hale, a sophomore, has been on the big stage before, finishing 28th overall as a freshman. But as on the boys side, Dulin said he is excited to see how the rest of the group does.
"We have Emily Smith, Kinsey Boudreau, Emily Barlow and Asuka Kosaki all [fighting] for the [scoring] spots," Dulin said. "The grouping at Greenwich was great. Everything is coming together at the right time."
The favorites are expected to be the Champlain Valley Union girls -- who are aiming for their 10th title in 11 years -- and the South Burlington boys, who reached the top of the mountain for the first time in program history in 2012.
"We’re not intimidated by the Northern teams after running with the big dogs in the invitationals," Dulin said. "Running well [at the invitationals] boosts their confidence and hopefully it carries into states."
The weather on Saturday is expected to be dry and cool, ideal conditions for a late fall afternoon.
"I told them that what the weather is today [Thursday], that’s what it’s going to be on Saturday," Dulin said.