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The 2023 New Hampshire Divisional Championships featured six meets, all of which belonged to the Coe-Brown boys
Aidan Cox closed out his final points-scoring high-school day with two state-meet records
The 2023 New Hampshire Division I, II, and III State Outdoor Track and Field Championships are over. Division III held its boys’ and girls’ championships on Wednesday, Division I had theirs on Thursday, and Division II provided a memorable coda on Friday. I first became aware of this schedule on Thursday afternoon, having incorrectly anticipated a reprise of 2022, when the three divisional meets began on the Friday before Memorial Day.
The main purpose of these meets is to award official team and individual state championship titles in all three divisions. The secondary purpose—and the only one for athletes on noncompetitive teams—is to advance individuals and relay squads to the New Hampshire Meet of Champions. In addition to giving rivals from different divisions a final seasonal in-state shot at one another, the Meet of Champions serves as a qualifier for the following week’s New England Championships, with the top six individuals in each event and relay from each state moving on to the New Englands.
This year’s “MoC” is on Saturday at D-II Oyster River High School, the almus madre of acclaimed running author Matt Fitzgerald, an occasional rival when I was being contemporaneously processed through the D-I Concord High School academic-athletic complex. The 2023 New Englands will be on June 10 in Bangor, Maine.
New Hampshire Track and Field (dot com) will soon have recaps of, and photos from, all three meets. I’m focusing here on a limited, gleefully biased chunk of the overall divisional action.
In Division III, senior Patrick Gandini of Gilford Regional High School won the 1,600 meters, the 800 meters, and the 3,200 meters, in that order, and then ran the first leg of Gilford’s winning 1,600-meter relay team. Despite the enormity of this achievement, it was, with the exception of Gilford upsetting Sanborn in the “four-by-four,” completely expected. Gandini won the same three individual events not only in 2022 as a junior, but in 2021 as a sophomore. (His freshman season was canceled by the corrupt U.S. public-health apparatus. His wasn’t the only one.)
If you were William Riley of Belmont, wouldn’t you want the pleasure of having this kid as a divisional foe, however unbeatable he might be, season after season?
At the outset of Gandini’s freshman cross-country season in 2019, I heard from a friend located deep in the New Hampshire woods. Reluctantly engaging a computer for the first time in weeks, this fellow, who is as keen a judge of natural running ability and inclination as he is parsimonious with praise, told me (and this is a direct paraphrase), “You like to watch kids who like to run fast. Keep an eye on this one. Mom was a five-time state XC champ.”
My decades-long penchant for spying on New Hampshire youth runners would have put Mr. Gandini on my radar regardless. But my crusty, sheep-herding associate—subsisting, at last notice, on bowls of oatmeal the diameter of a steering wheel and performing administrative tasks in the glow of the Coleman lamp on the milking-stool next to the cot in his woodshed—was correct. Gandini is One Of Those Kids. He’ll be is off to the U.S. Naval Academy in the fall, and if someone like me could be named Outstanding Cadet at the 1990 R.O.T.C. Camp Challenge in Fort Knox, Kentucky (if only for my “platoon,” not the entire “battalion”), then someone with some genuine discipline will indubitably thrive in Annapolis.
I believe Gandini will be one of the top five to ten cross-country runners in the Patriot League within two years, tops, and by the spring of 2025 will be comfortably under 30:00 for 10,000 meters on the track. And if these predictions prove wrong, it will only be because Gandini decides to become uncommonly good at something else.
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Aidan Cox of Coe-Brown Northwood Academy, also a senior, provided a spectacular-yet-expected performance of his own at the Division II champs. But his two divisional-state-meet records, one of which was also the fastest time ever run in New Hampshire, were partially swamped by how well the rest of his team did.
Coe-Brown, the defending team champion and contending again on Friday, must have decided to dog the 3,200-meter relay to open the day and settle for second place and eight points with an 8:12. 95. The four runners the team used—Cox, Jamie Lano, Gavin Demas, Tyler Tkaczyk—would all be returning for two individual events. Demas has run 1:52 this season, so had the team wanted to win, had he gone all-out, the other three could have engaged in a mutual texting session during their legs and Coe-Brown still would have popped a 7:55. (Coe-Brown would win this year’s meet by 47 points.)
In the 1,600 meters, those same four runners took the top four spots, with Cox setting a meet record in 4:12.22 and his three mates splitting 2:15 at halfway and ~3:23 at the bell before the collective rotating of screws began.
In the 800 meters, Demas and Lano grabbed first and third. In the 3,200 meters, Cox blasted through 1,600 meters in a shade over 4:30, impossibly far in the lead, looking automatic and serene even though the burn he has learned to deftly sublimate and of-so-subtly negotiate was there. Then he sped up.
Cox’s 8:57.63 was a meet record and the fastest time ever run on New Hampshire “soil.” Only Eli Moskowitz of Division II Souhegan, who ran an unlikely 8:44.79 at the 2015 Glenn Loucks Games in New York State, has run faster among Granite State kids.
With Tkaczyk and Nikhil Chavda claiming third and fifth in the eight-lapper, Coe Brown wound up owning 62 of a possible 93 points in the three individual distance events. By themselves, Cox, Lano (the only junior in the crew), Demas, and Tkaczyk accounted for 60 of those points—60 of an available 64 given how the four were distributed across events.
I don’t use this word lightly, but the Division II state meet was something of a celebration of Aidan Cox’s career and, realistically, the end of an era at Coe-Brown. Coaches Tim Cox and Brent Tkaczyk could go on harvesting state-championship teams from the halls of CBNA for another decade or more if they wanted to. But Aidan finishing high school is a seminal event.
Aidan Cox was transforming New Hampshire running before he was old enough to fully understand his own exploits. He set a single-age U.S. record for 5K while he still believed, understandably, in the Easter Bunny. Just as understandably, observers from afar, and probably a few silent ones up close, wondered if this tiny kid would hold up, and, more critically, maintain the desire to win once the pressure to do so inevitably grew well beyond his stature.
Having watched not so much him but those around for years makes it easier to rationalize his unlikely success. Aidan, who’s now around 6’ 1”, did face setbacks in high school—-more than one injury that cost him fitness at an inopportune time. That he patiently prevailed over these and has kept improving anyway says more about him and his coaches and his parents than an undisrupted prep career would have, and Aidan will need to remember those lessons when he’s at the University of Virginia in the fall. It’s worth noting that his mileage has, all along, been more modest than most people might instinctively conclude.
Cox, Gandini, and dozens of kids I’ve blatantly stiffed by not mentioning their divisional-meet efforts aren’t done for the season yet, and some won’t be done even after the New Englands in two weeks. But no points are awarded at the MoC, and there’s something special about the last time a talented, dedicated, and cohesive group of kids and their coaches try to figure out how to put a winning formula together and execute it. That timeless symphony will never lose its beauty, especially when the kids playing their parts do so with an enviable grace they only could have learned from the most skilled and devoted adult composers and producers.
Owing to the way Bangor is (somewhat mis)pronounced, upon discovering that an event requiring many people to stay in hotels would soon be held there, I checked to see if Bangor has a Broker Inn, like Boulder does, although some time after becoming a budding crackhouse seven years ago, the property was sold and rebranded Boulder Broker by Rodeway Inn and Suites.
Try to imagine overhearing a 50-year-old male stranger say, “My daughter is running her last-ever track meet on Saturday, so I and a few buddies are going to bang ‘er. Did the same thing spring of her sophomore year. Broke ‘er in that time, an experience I’d rather not get into. Meth-heads everywhere….”