Two Watertown High School runners took on the best in Massachusetts and came away from the All-State Cross Country Meet with medals and best ever finishes for the Raiders at the state championship meet.
Senior James Piccirilli ran the 5K race in a time of 16:51 and finished in eight place at in the Div. 2 boys race at the Gardner Municipal Golf Course. No boys runner from Watertown High School has placed that high in the All-State Meet, said Coach Tom Wittenhagen.
In the girls race, junior Emily Koufos ran a time of 19:48, which put her in 12th place in the Div. 2 race, also the best ever finish for the Raiders.
Wittenhagen said both runners ran gutsy races on the most challenging course they had seen this year, with large hills.
“They both went out aggressively, which takes tremendous courage,” Wittenhagen said. “Most people don’t appreciate how hard it is, to be willing to go out and challenge yourself knowing you have grueling 5,000 meters ahead of you.”
The Div. 2 race includes the best runners from Division’s 4-6 from Eastern Mass., along with the top runners from the Div. 2 races in the Central and Western sections, which means it is an elite field of 200 runners Wittenhagen said.
The pair have turned in historic seasons for the Raiders, which Wittenhagen said is all the more impressive because both are relatively inexperienced runners.
In just his second year running cross country, Piccirilli placed second at the Div. 5 Eastern Mass. Championship last week, and sixth at the Middlesex League Meet. He also finished undefeated in the dual meet season.
As a junior, Piccirilli was behind two seniors, Amin Touri and Jeremy Breen, for most of the season, but at the end of the season he made some big improvements.
“All of the sudden James got fifth at the Div. 5 Meet,” Wittenhagen said.
His second place at the Divisional Meet this year has only been surpassed by WHS Sports Hall of Famer Nick Goodman, who won it when he was a senior some 15 year ago, Wittenahagen said.
Piccirilli has been recruited to run by a number of colleges, Wittenhagen said, but has not chosen where to go yet.
Earlier this season, Koufos won the Div. 5 Eastern Mass. race, and took fourth at the Middlesex League meet. Both she and Piccirilli also set the record at the Raiders’ home course – Arsenal Park. Koufos only lost one dual meet, when she was coming off an early-season injury.
“It is even more remarkable considering she hadn’t run competitively in cross country before September,” Wittenhagen said, who noted she had run indoor and outdoor track a sophomore.
The WHS girls cross country team has not had the illustrious history as the boys, so Koufos has been setting the mark for female Raiders runners this year. No one had won the Divisional Meet, and her finishes at the Middlesex League Championship and at the All-State Meet also are the highest ever for Watertown High School, Wittenhagen said.
The pair have at least one more race this season. They will participate in the Footlocker Regional Meet at historic Van Cortlandt Park in New York City on Nov. 26.
“We haven’t gone down there for 15 years,” Wittenhagen said. “Nick Goodman just got into the field.”
The top 10 finishers in the Championship Race move on to the Nationals in San Diego. Watertown junior Elizabeth Powderly will also go down to compete in the Junior/Senior race.
Wittenhagen said he expects both Piccirilli and Koufos to be seeded around 25th, so they are not expected to reach those heights, but if they have a special performance one or both may make the leap into the top 10.