By Jean DePlacido Correspondent
The Salem News
---- — PEABODY — The beat goes on.
Not only are the Peabody High boys and girls cross country teams both champions of the Northeastern Conference this fall, but the Higgins Middle School runners in the Tanner City can also claim titles for both boys and girls.
The Higgins 6th, 7th and 8th graders went unbeaten in the league meets, going a perfect 7-0 before capping the season off in the NEC championship meet.
“I love coaching these kids,” said Eric Blake, who has headed up the middle school running program in Peabody for 14 years. “They’re great to work with and we have a lot of fun. Both our boys and girls were outstanding this season.”
The Peabody girls were led by Alyssa Shashaty in the NEC Meet at Stage Fort Park in Gloucester. She was third overall in 9:59 behind Beverly’s Abby Walsh (9:40) and Julia Curtin (9:41). Beverly finished second overall in the meet and Gloucester was third.
Other top runners for Higgins included fifth place finisher Aly Barrett (10:11), Marisa Orlando (8th, 10:27), Emily Nelson (10th, 10:35), Nicole Venuti (12th, 10:46), Gianna Capo (19th, 11:00) and Lilly Brennan (22nd, 11:02). Caroline O’Neil (26th), Morgan Pappas (28th), and Emily Christensen (29th) also ran well for Higgins.
The meet (and course) record for the girls was set by Peabody High’s outstanding runner, Catarina Rocha (9:33), back in 2008 when she won the meet.
For the boys, the top three teams were Peabody, Beverly, and Swampscott. Marcelo Rocha (Catarina’s brother) came very close to breaking the course record for the boys with a winning time of 8:57, just four seconds off the mark set by Daniel Drescher of Belmonte Middle School in Saugus back in 2006. He beat out Beverly’s Brian McPherson (9:03) and Swampscott’s Jack Dennehy (9:08).
Other top Higgins runners included Matt D’Amato (4th, 9:14), Marc Alperen (8th, 9:43), Stephen May (16th, 10:00), Tim January (17th, 10:06), Eric Higgins (23rd, 10:16) and Brian Buckley (30th, 10:23).
“I like that Gloucester course, and I felt good running,” said Marcelo Rocha, who started running competitively when he was a sixth grader. His younger brother Claudio (currently a 6th grader) is also on the Higgins team, and his father coaches the Peabody High runners. His mother, the former Gina Braz, was also an outstanding runner at Peabody and later Boston College.
“I like distance running, both cross country and outdoor track. We have a good team and it’s a lot of fun. The course at the state meet was more difficult for me, and I felt sorer the next day.”
Rocha was third overall at the 4th annual Massachusetts State Middle School Cross Country Invitational at Tewksbury Nov. 3 with a time of 9:47. The Peabody boys finished eighth in the team championship behind D’Amato 36th, Alperen 64th, May 83rd Derek Blanchard 142nd, Anthony Capo 147th, and Anthony Maida 167th.
“Our girls didn’t compete in the team category at states because we had several that couldn’t make it because of other commitments,” said Blake. “I think if they had all been there, we had a very good chance to win it all.
“We did have some outstanding individual efforts. Barrett was the sixth grade state champion, Shashaty was 5th in the eighth grade class, and Rocha 3rd for the boys. All three got nice medals, and we received team plaques for winning the NEC.”
Barrett’s time of 11:12 was just two seconds off the course record, and right behind her was Anna Edson of Briscoe Middle School in Beverly (11:13). For the eighth grade girls Walsh took 2nd (10:55), and Shashaty 5th (11:10). Briscoe’s Curtin was 4th in the seventh grade race (10:50).