Kent’s Swanson sets the pace in cross country debut

CAMBRIDGE — On Thursday, Henry Sabetti sat in a circle in the shade of a large tree that was within shouting distance of Kent County High School, breaking down the results of the Trojans’ performances the day before in their first cross country race of the season.

Sabetti, who is beginning his ninth year as head coach of KCHS’ storied program that can boast of conference and region champs and a two-time state title winner, talked to his runners one by one — all 14 of them. He was excitedly positive and humorous, as he is wont to be, and ascribed nicknames as he went around the circle.

When Sabetti came to sophomore Alden Swanson, the Trojans’ veteran coach hesitated and then said he’d get back to her.

Here’s a thought. How ’bout “front-runner.”

It certainly fits.

Swanson led the field Wednesday, Sept. 13 in the annual Rumble in the Jungle invitational hosted by Cambridge-South Dorchester High School.

She toured the 3-mile course in 20 minutes, 36 seconds — 9 seconds faster than runner-up Logan Newton of Parkside and 15 seconds faster than third-place finisher Macy Woroniecki of overall team winner Stephen Decatur.

After she finished the race, the 15-year-old Swanson said, “I didn’t know I could do that.”

In an interview at school on Thursday, she acknowledged being a novice runner and was adamant that she was not a sprinter.

When asked what prompted her to go out for the cross country team, she replied, “I needed to let some energy off.”

That’s understandable.

Swanson, her three younger brothers and their parents Robbi Behr and Matthew Swanson spent the last year traveling the country in a Busload of Books Tour visiting Title I schools in all 50 states and handing out free books to students and teachers from underserved communities.

She was on the road for her freshman year of high school but has embraced her return to in-person learning in Kent County’s public school system where she also plays the alto saxophone in the KCHS Brigade of Blue marching band.

“I like being busy,” she said.

Swanson and most of the Trojans were making their cross country debut at the eighth edition of the Rumble in the Jungle.

It was warm — air temperature was in the low 80s — but tolerable, much better than the stifling heat and humidity of the week before that led to a cancellation of all outdoor athletic activities at KCHS.

Having no race experience whatsoever, Swanson said she “paced” herself at the start and followed the lead pack for about the first mile. But once she felt comfortable with the course, she bolted to the front of the line and never looked back, literally.

She said heat was somewhat of a factor, but the “shade and woods helped a lot.”

She also acknowledged being nearly tripped up a couple of times on the exposed tree roots that are prominent on the course.

Kent has four girls, just one shy of being able to score as a team.

Freshman Sophie Cousineau, whose older sister Charlotte was a state qualifier in 2021, was second into the chute for Kent’s girls and 25th overall in 24:26.

Senior Molly Depp (28:54) and sophomore McKenzie Smith (30:17) were in the second tier of finishers. Both realized personal bests.

Overall, there were 99 girls.

Stephen Decatur with 51 points was tops among the field of 11 schools that brought full girls teams. Kent Island (61) was second. Gunston Day School (125) edged North Caroline by a point for third.

On the boys side there were 18 full teams and 156 runners.

Queen Anne’s junior Ben Marks led the way in 15:36, the only one to break 16 minutes.

Gunston senior Colin Hallmark was second in 16:28, the only other runner to break 17 minutes.

Junior Tekai Drummond (17:20) of host Cambridge battled Kent Island sophomore Gunner Hansard (17:21) for third, with the next five runners finishing in the span of 19 seconds.

Senior Jack Spray was the first Trojan into the chute, and 54th overall in 20:44.

Then came freshman Ashton Dean (21:06), sophomore Trent Johnson (21:42), senior Kevin Stroup (21:48) and sophomore Lynden Saunders (22:17) to complete the team scoring.

This was the first cross country race ever for Dean, Johnson, Stroup and Saunders, though Johnson and Stroup ran track last year.

Kent’s top five were pushed by seniors John Hinton (22:19) and Aiden Herman (22:24), sophomore Andrew Buckel (23:38), and freshmen Landon Merritt (24:16) and Billy Krastel (27:19).

Kent Island, the 2022 team champ, led the team scoring again with 56 points.

Easton (85) was the runner-up, followed by Stephen Decatur (91), Queen Anne’s (133) and North Dorchester (143) to round out the top five.
Kent County (310) was 11th, just behind large Class 3A school James Bennett (301).

Overall, coach Sabetti said the Trojans turned in “a very strong effort.”

He said heat might have been a factor, but acknowledged that the Trojans had been training in this kind of weather.

“I think their times will come down as it gets cooler and their conditioning improves,” he added.

The robust roster of 14 runners — 10 boys and four girls — is the largest turnout in Sabetti’s tenure.

“Fantastic” is the one word that he used to describe the group.

“There’s really good chemistry,” Sabetti added, “and they’re all friends and supportive of one another.”

Many of the Trojans had a head start when practice officially began Aug. 9.

According to Sabetti, reigning team MVP Buckel, Spray, Dean, Saunders, Hinton, Stroup, Krastel, Cousineau and Smith have been running since June.

Buckel, Spray, Hinton, Depp and Smith are the only returnees.

He said there is “strong motivation” for the boys to qualify as a team for the state championship race.

For the girls, Swanson has set the bar pretty high.

She is “sitting on really great potential,” Sabetti said.

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