Article and photo by Paul Hayes of the Caledonian-Record
Tops Again: Cowan, Hilltoppers capture second straight outdoor track title
BURLINGTON — Last year St. Johnsbury Academy won its first Division I girls outdoor track title by five points over Essex.
This year the winning margin was 34.5 points — again over Essex.
The Hilltopper girls are on a roll. They have now won four straight Division I track championships, two indoor and two outdoor, and will return the overwhelming majority of their top scorers from Saturday's championship.
The most talented group coach Chip Langmaid has seen in his 27 years with the Hilltoppers program? Arguably.
"I hope they understand how special they are," said Langmaid. "This is more depth across the board than we've ever had."
St. J was led Saturday by sophomore Katherine Cowan, who won three events — the 100 hurdles (15.54 seconds), 300 hurdles (47.46) and 200 meters (26.03) — and also matched Essex's Hannah Neddo and Sade Hankey for the best leap in the high jump (5-0), but took third on a tiebreaker.
"I am just grateful to be part of such a great team," said Cowan, who now owns 11 gold medals, 10 as an individual, over four track and field seasons. "My teammates really push me to be the best I can be."
Cowan repeated as champion in both hurdle events and won the 200 in a school-record time. It was a typically gutsy performance, according to her coach.
"At this level, she is certainly as competitive if not more competitive than anyone out there," Langmaid said.
Junior Quinnae Outerbridge won the 800 in a time of 2:22.71 and was also a member of St. J's winning 4x400 and 4x800 relays.
Hilltopper sophomore Grace Cooke finished second in both the 100 and 300 hurdles, was second in triple jump and took sixth in long jump. Her triple jump of 35-7 was a school record.
Essex held a 38.5-point advantage over St. J in field events, led by senior Amanda Sinkewicz, a three-event champion in shot put, discus and javelin, and Hankey, a junior, who placed first in triple jump and second in long jump.
But the Hilltoppers fired back midway through the meet, outscoring Essex 62-11 in the 100 and 300 hurdles and 400 and 800 meters.
St. Johnsbury also scored 22 points in the relays, with wins in the 4x400 (Hannah Ryan, Outerbridge, Lauren Green, Bettina Hammer) and 4x800 (Outerbridge, Green, Rebecca Green and Allison Peck).
Overall St. J scored in 16 of 18 events.
They are the first program to win consecutive girls track titles over perennial power Essex since Mt. Mansfield in 1998 and '99.
"It's a pretty special treat to be coaching a group like this," Langmaid said.
Langmaid was cautiously optimistic about his team's future. Not only are the Hilltoppers returning the bulk of their scoring, they have a score of young athletes ready to take the next step in their development.
That includes sophomores Hannah Wescott (third in pole vault, fourth in the high jump) and Annie Cunningham (fourth in 1,500 and 3,000, fifth in pole vault) and freshman Lia Rotti (third in triple jump) and sister Jen Rotti (fourth in 300 hurdles).
If they remain healthy and stay focused, he said, they could continue to achieve great things and remain the team to beat in Division I.
"They certainly have the potential to do it again," Langmaid said.