Essex Invitational Meet Summary


The Essex Invitational

The 2014 Vermont New England Qualifier

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Story and Photos by Ralph Epifanio


If you can avoid its winter, Vermont is definitely the place to live: vermillion, tree-covered mountains; deep, dramatic, river-forged ravines; fast-flowing streams that invite (seasonal) tubing; inspiring vistas that go on to the horizon. And, adding to that, talented athletes that can bring the first day of spring into sharp focus with their record-breaking performances. The only shortcoming of that picture-perfect imagery was that this year spring finally arrived, more or less, on May 31st.

Having only recently arrived from the (nearly) opposite end of America’s climactic range—central Florida, where summer weather reliably arrives in mid-April—I can only say that my C:UsersRalphPicturesEssex Invitatioinal  2014Resized EssexTrackside EmporiumDSC_0123.jpgtiming was impeccable…at least, according to Vermont Tech coach Bob Dunkle, who gave added perspective to my Shangri-La.

“U32”—where his son, Michael competes in the pole vault—“has had only six weeks of track so far. The team starts in April. The school had to have the track plowed to begin practicing…and the State Meet is next week!”

According to the senior Dunkle, winters are not always reflective of the icy desolation that defines Frostfangs (Game of Thrones).

“Up here, cross country is a popular sport because it leads into cross country skiing. A number of Olympic skiers come from Vermont. New England has the top skiers, and Vermont has the cream of the crop.”—for example, “The Skiing Cochrans,” six of whom, Mom, Dad, and four kids, were all Olympians—“The Burke School of Skiing”—Burke Mountain Academy, with skiing and a college preparatory curriculum—“Stratton Mountain School, and Greene Mountain Valley School”—GMVS—“have sport-specific schools for (academics and) skiing.

“My son, Michael, skies for U32. His school was the runner-up for cross country skiing. Their coach is probably the best in the state.”

On the other hand, in northern New England, track and field can be rough at times, as it was this past spring, because it followed on the heels of one of the worst and longest winters in recent memory. Although, I have been assured by some of the older residents that this is more the norm, rather than the exception.  And consider this: Vermont has winter track. (Ironically, Florida--with no winter to speak of--does not. Go figure.)

“Only one state college in Vermont has track,” Dunkle continued, “and they just built it: the University of Vermont.  Norwich might have one too. This is because you can only start practice in April. This year we had snow until the middle of April. At the end of March, it was still below zero in the morning.” Of course, “Dartmouth and UV have indoor facilities.”

One has to wonder, how do you “get up” for such things as the jumping events, when the pits might be subject to a frost line that, rumor had it, was as deep as the snow was high. Substitute snow for sand, perhaps?

Vertical Jumps

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First to “take off” were the boys’ and girls’ long jump, and boys’ pole vault. Twin LJ/TJ runways paralleled the PV approach near the finish line end of a somewhat elongated track. (The curves seemed unusually narrow.)

In the pole vault, The Essex Invitational has an interesting tie-in between the opening height and the area’s total snowfall: if you can clear the previous winter’s total snowfall, you’re in. In 2013-2014, the total for Essex Junction—the site of the meet—it was roughly seven feet (86”, give or take the nearest snow drift). Thus the girls opened at 8-0, and the boys at 10-6. Hopefully, a T & F meet will never be scheduled for nearby Mt. Mansfield, where last winter it snowed 243’6” (20+ feet).

With a 14’ vault, Kyle Baker—one of many Essex Junction athletes to seize the home track advantage--rose above the competition (both meteorological and human).

“I was hoping to get 14’6”,” Kyle explained afterwards. “By the end of the season I want to get 14-9. My current PR is 14-7.”

With two big meets on the horizon—the Vermont Divisional Championships and the New Englands—he has a solid shot at that additional snowfall…uh, six inches.

“This season didn’t start off as well as I’d have liked, but towards the last few weeks, I’ve been consistent. And, although I did not have too many PRs”—his 2014 best is 14’ 3”, both at the 2013 New Englands, and also this past indoor season—“I made slow and steady (progress).  I guess, when you’re vaulting, it’s that next big barrier. For me, it would be 14’6”.  I just have to (continue to) be consistent, be patient, and ‘let things fly.’”

In second was another junior, Jack Brown, who went 13-0; the aforementioned Michael Dunkle, finishing up his last year of high school track, placed third with 11’ 6”.

The boys vaulted first, and by the time they had finished, the running and jumping events were well under way.  From all outward appearances, it was a harried--and hurried-- Kathryn Bassette, a Woodstock junior, who appeared just in time to warm up for her first attempt at nine feet.

“There are all kinds of strategies for the pole vault,” she told me, “and I wanted to come in at a height that I knew I could clear. So I came in at nine foot. I cleared nine and went for ten.”

That turned out to be the best she could do, but it was good enough to win. (Her PR is 10-8, which she claimed at the Burlington Invitational, three weeks earlier.)

“I wasn’t feeling so well,” Bassette continued. “A lot of the kids in Vermont high schools have been getting colds. I’d like to come back at States and hit 11. Then I have the New Englands.

“All season long it has been my goal to hit 11. But we had a very late, wet, cold spring and that really affected me. We had four or five meets cancelled, and you can’t vault in the rain. I do have two more weeks to make up that foot….”

Kathryn, incidentally, also ran an 18.02 100H and a 51.21 300H, but will only advance to the NEs in the pole vault.

Emily Geske (Champlain Valley) also jumped ten (for second), and Molly Larson (Mt. Mansfield) placed third (9-0).

On the other end of the track, almost obscured by distance—as I mentioned, the track was designed like a miniature hippodrome--were the high jumpers. Leading the leapers was a freshman, Sade (pronounced Sa-day) Hankey. She cleared 5-2.

“I’ve won a couple of others, and also in indoors, but none as big as this one. It raises my confidence pretty high.

“In the beginning of the season I wasn’t as consistent (as I could have been), but I am now. We’ve been working on my approach, and have been trying to nail that. I also do a lot of squats, which help me with my hamstrings. I’ve been doing them all season. They are what help you jump higher.

“For this season, my goal was to jump 5’ 6”. My record right now is 5’4”; that was in a regular meet about three weeks ago.”

Following Sade was her Essex teammate Katherine Furland (also 5-2), and Milton’s Brooke Phillips was third (5-1).

Noah Lamos (Richford) won the boys high jump competition (6-1), followed by Will Lynch, Burlington (6-0). Placing third was Davis Dunbar (Bellows Falls; also 6-0).

Horizontal Jumps

Pretty much going on all day, the long jumps and triple jumps—trials and finals—challenged the foot races for center stage, as the runways were just beyond the common finish line.

South Burlington’s Caleb Kasupski had that “attention” down pat.

“I started doing track in my sophomore year,” Caleb explained. “(At that time) I just did the pole vault, along with Chris Mitchell. I did 12’ outdoors—which was pretty impressive—and made it to the New Englands. This year, indoors, I got 13-6 (2nd to Kyle Baker in the February 8th State Meet).

“But this is my first year of doing the long jump. I really enjoy it. I was introduced to it by Dennis Akey, who also coached the girls’ winner (Kayla Gilding). Its approach was very similar to (that of) the pole vault. I was able to pick it up pretty quickly.

“The one thing that is different is the mental aspect. I’ve been (consistently) participating in four events, but it’s been all mixed up. So far this year I’ve done the pole vault, high jump, long jump, triple jump, discus, javelin, open 100 and 200, and 110 hurdles. I also run cross country to keep in shape. I enjoy the people; a really good group of guys.

“(In the long jump) I don’t think I’ve peaked yet, but I’ve been hitting 21 (feet) consistently. I think I can hit 22 by States, next week.

“I’ll be participating in the decathlon after the States. I’ve been joking with Alec Escholz”—with whom he competed, both in the LJ and the 110s—“that it will really be fun.”

Caleb won with a leap of 21’ 5 ¾”. In second was Alec Eschholz of Mt. Mansfield (21’ 1 ½”), and in third was David Dunbar (20’ 6 ¾”) for Bellows Falls.

On the girls’ side, as previously mentioned, the winner was Kayla Gilding (17’ 6 ¼” for South Burlington); Katherine Furland, Essex,  was second (16’ 6 ½”); and Olivia Dexter, U32, was third (16’ 2 ½”).

Kayla: “I’ve been competing in track since I was eight. I think the 400 is my favorite event. I ran a 56.49”—the current Vermont Division 1 record—“my freshman year. I believe that was at the New Englands, and I’m working to get back at that time.

“I have really great coaches. They all have a different way of coaching, and together their techniques have really helped. That creates an exciting atmosphere which allows me to give it my all.

“Today I jumped 17’ 6”. I have jumped 17’ 10 3/4”--at the Burlington Invitational, two weeks ago. I would love to hit 18. If that doesn’t happen, I still have next year. (Kayla is a junior.) But that”—jumping 18’—“would be a great way to end this year.”

Katherine Furland’s name appears again in the triple jump (34’ 2 ½”), second to winner Pearl Abiti of Colchester (36’ 10 ½”). Harwood’s Emma Russo was third (33’ 6”).

For the boys, Christian Holway—representing Burlington--won the hop-skip-and-jump with 42’ 1”; Kevin Desmond (Colchester) was second with 41’ 11 ¾”; and Robert Lesure (Spaulding) was third with 41’ 11 ½”.


If there is a downside to abandoning a qualifier-finals format in lieu of multiple heats (with the last being the seeded section), it is that after the heats begin to pile up, one after another, one tends to nap. And this certainly happened to more than one onlooker in the final running of the boys’ 300 hurdles.

By that time, Mansfield’s Alec Eschholz had already served notice that he was blazing a path to the New Englands. He had already won the 110s (14.64), and added a second in the long jump (21’ 1 ½”). But when the gun went off in the final running of the 300 hurdles, he had that little something extra, and ran through the hurdles like King Kong through bananas. His final time—38.34 seconds—pretty much electrified his audience (whether awake or otherwise) and wiped the records slate clean: meet, and all four state division records.

His dad (and coach), Bill Eschels, put it in perspective.

“This is the first time in two weeks that he ran the 300. We went to the Eddy Games in Schenectady, New York (May 17th), where they run the 400 hurdles.  They run the 400 hurdles in New York State. The kid who won (in 53.65) was John Hightower, from (Riverdale Baptist in) Maryland. I think he’s ranked fifth nationally. So we knew that he (Alec, second in 54.14), was right on the cusp.”

“I definitely had an edge,” Alec added. “After the 400 at the Eddy meet, it really boosted my confidence and carried me today.

“The last couple of years I had to find my own pace and push myself. There hasn’t been too much competition in Vermont. The last two years at States, the guys were behind me.”

In those two meets, Alec was almost perfect: In 2012 (as a freshman), he won the 300H in 41.03, and came in third in the 110H in 41.03; in 2013 he won both, the 110H in 14.73, and the 300H in 39.46. In this (Essex) qualifier meet, he won both in better times.

“I think, this year, I am going to push it even harder. We’ve been lifting all season for strength, and trying to get a quick trail leg coming down on the ground. I’m trying to build up for States. I’ve been chasing the State 100 and 300 hurdles (record) all season. I hope to get them by the end (the New England Meet).”

Bill Eschholz: “In this meet it’s for the time. He’s thinking ‘I’ve got to get a time for the New Englands.’ Next week, for the States (title), it’s place.”

Interestingly enough, Alec’s father forms a bridge between his most recent time and the former record--38.6--which was set way back in 1987.

“It was my first year of coaching, and I think it was more luck than anything. He (Hiroshi Andrews-the former record holder) didn’t get a whole lot from me. I was the highs and triple jump coach, and I didn’t know much about technique. We had three kids that I called my A-B-C runners: Hiroschi Andrews, Rob Burton, and Tom Chiari. They went 1-2-5, or 1-2-6 (in the State meet).”

Hiroshi’s (former) record mark, by the way, was so long ago that it was hand-timed.

In this meet, Lyndon Institute teammates Tomas Kamenik and Axe Ntabana were second (41.17) and third (41.70) respectively.

Alec and Axe also finished 1-3 in the 110H (14.64 and 15.96 respectively), but South Burlington’s Caleb Kasupski was second (15.67).

Alec: ‘”Usually, I’m one of the quickest out of the blocks, but in this one”—the 110H—“everyone else was out quick too.”

Nonetheless, Eschholz had another two-for-two day in the hurdles.

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“I tried to push it in between the hurdles, as much as I could to distance myself from the field. This was one of my first clean races. I don’t think I hit one hurdle. That definitely helped.”

In this meet, Essex’s Katherine Furland spent about as much time on the podium as she did on the track. In all, she placed four times: the HJ (second with 5’ 2”), the LJ (second with16’ 6 ½”), the triple jump (second with 34’ 2 ½”), and—just to show she will never accept being second best—she won the 100 H with a time of 16.11 seconds. (As I said, her podium time was longer.)

During one of our many encounters (she was, literally, all over the place-I even thought I saw her in the produce department at Price Chopper the next day), Katherine gave me a peek into a winners’ brain.

“I think that being able to get inside your own head, and being able to do your best against any competition is to your advantage. But at every meet there has been great competition, which has allowed me to do my best.

“I’m trying to focus, like tunnel vision, and perform well under pressure. You can’t control your competition, but you can control your own performances.”

In the 110 H, Furlang was followed by Karlee Fowler (BFA) in 16.34, and freshman Amber Sicard (Colchester) in 17.02.

In the 300H, it was Emily Close (LRU; 48.05), Caitlyn Dabagian (Milton; 48.99), and Eliza Giles (49.47).

Distance Races

C:UsersRalphPicturesEssex Invitatioinal  2014Resized EssexDistanceRAE_9028.jpgOn the girls’ side, it was—once again—the Autumn Eastman show. Literally running away from the competition in both the 1500 and 3000, she ran national class times (4:39.95 in the 1500, and 9:55.53), winning by a combined 41 seconds. She was not, however, completely satisfied.

“I wanted to be around 4:35 or under (in the 1500). It was hard to push yourself with no one around, but I did my best.

“The third lap was the hardest. It was more of a lap in limbo. The first one was easy, and so was the last, because you are finishing. But in the second and the third, it is hard to keep your tempo.”

It seemed that she went out even faster in the 3000.

“Left over energy, I guess” Autumn speculated. “I didn’t give it”—the 1500—“my total energy. In this race I gave it my heart and soul, and forgot about what I had left.”

The Champlain Valley High School senior has her sights set on Georgetown University, in Washington D.C.

“I am going to major either in pre-med, or go into PA (physician’s assistant).”

But first….

“I want to leave a lasting impression for my team, and (the idea of) a healthy lifestyle, so everyone can do things, even though they might think they can’t.”

Rounding out the top three in the Girls 1500 were Carmen Bango (Woodstock; 4:49.73) and Rose Monahan (Essex; 4:50. 23). In the 3000 Quinn Bornstein (St. Johnsbury) was second (10:26.29), and Emma Farrington (Essex) was third (10:32.70).

The close of the Girls 800 came down to a sprint between St. Johnsbury’s Robin Vincent (2:17.16) and Woodstock’s Carmen Bango (2:17.77). Freshman Leah Burger (Champlain Valley) was third in 2:23.64.

The boys’ distance races didn’t have an Autumn Eastman, but it didn’t lose anything in the way of competition. All three races—the 800, 1500, and 3000--saw mano on mano races.

In the 800, Colchester’s Jordan Lamay jussssst outlasted South Burlington’s Sean MacDonald, 1:58.47 to 1:58.92.  Outrun, but not outdone, third place finisher Max Moulton (Middlebury) broke the two minute barrier (1:59.99).

MacDonald won the prior 1500 in 4:05.95, but he might have had to hold off a mob of pursuers, including U32’s John Rahill (4:07.71), Rice’s Oliver Wood (4:09.30), South Burlington’s Patrick Hickey (4:10.92), and Bellow Falls’ Jamie and Willie Moore (4:11.42 and 4:13.78, respectively).

C:UsersRalphPicturesEssex Invitatioinal  2014Resized EssexDistanceRAE_9169.jpg“I didn’t expect to take it out as long as I did,” MacDonald said after the race. “I thought I’d sit and wait. But I had a change of plans. It was a natural instinct. My legs felt good, so I decided to go for it. When I heard the bell (and I had the lead), I let my adrenaline carry me in.”

In the 3000, Sam Merriman’s (U32) game plan was to control the pace, which proved to be harder than he might have thought.

“Sidi (Abdoulaye, SBHS) beat me during cross country season; he was state champion.” (Sidi ran 16:33 last October 26th.) “He was not only first in Division 1, but he was first overall. He’s a really fast distance runner.

“At the Burlington Invitational, two weeks ago, it went 9:16. I was worried it would go out too slow (again). So I wanted to pick up the pace.  I figured that it would happen. They (the competition) didn’t run fast races there, but they were capable of running better (here).”

Although Sam seemed in firm control of the race, Sidi sat on his shoulder almost from the start—with a string of runners in close proximity. But coming into a straightaway, and one other time, Sidi slipped past. His move didn’t unsettle Merriman.

“Sidi passed me twice. I was worried that, if I let him go, he would lead me, so I passed him right away. If he wasn’t there to continually pick up the pace, a lot of things could have happened, and I probably wouldn’t have been under nine.”

The season is far from over.

“Right now I’m focused on the State meet, which we”—U32—“think we can win. We have a good middle distance runner in John Rahill, Michael Dunkle—a good pole vaulter—and Adam Gowans (a double winner in the shot and discus). We have great variety. We won last year, and had only two seniors graduate.”

Merriman, after graduation, will be off to Ohio’s Case Western in pursuit of a degree in Medical Engineering.


For the boys, Burlington’s speed dominated. Makahil Abdinoor swept the short sprints (11.38 in the 100, and 22.36 in the 200), Tobias Muellers won the 400 (49.21), and the relay team of Abdinoor-Muellers-Hart-Noor won the 4 X 4 (meet record).

Abdinoor: “I may be the fastest here, but not the fastest in the world. I’m going to work my butt off and try for the (overall) state record. I want to run a 21.9 or 22 flat. And for the 100, 11 flat.”

Second and third in the Boys 100 went to Burlington’s Noor (11.43) and Fair Haven’s Matt Clark (11.54). In the 200, Tobias Muellers (22.56) was second, and Casey Fuller (Mt. Mansfield; 22.72) third. In the 400, Muellers’ 49.21 division record was followed by Andrew Brandmeyer (Mt. Anthony; second in 50.65) and Damion Curtis (South Burlington; third in 51.45).

People Academy’s Hannah Merriam took double gold in the 100 and 200 (12.55 and 25.18). She was followed in the 100 by Leniesha Williams (Mt. Anthony; 12.85) and Olivia Dester (U32; 12.92). In the 200, it was Kayla Gilding in second (South Burlington; 25.98) and Brooke Phillips in third (Milton; 25.98). Hannah’s 200 was a D-3 record.

Kaya Gilding won the 400 in 58.11, followed by Pearl Abiti of Colchester (58.95) and Mt. Anthony’s  Siera Dickie (62.41).


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Katey Comstock (Windsor) was a double winner, taking the shot with a 36’ 9” put, and the discus with a 105’ 3” throw.

Comstock, by the way, has her own following, which—in this meet—consisted of friends Mallory Curtis and the ever mysterious Julia.

Following Katey in the shot was North Country’s Cassidy Webster (35’ 5”) and Rhiannon Page (Nort; 34’ 1”). Thetford’s Ella Chapman placed second in the discus (103’ 1”), and Liz Ksepka third (U32; 99’ 7”).

The top three girls in the javelin were Brianna Hake (Champlain Valley; 108’ 6”), Jessica Stanhope (ENOS; 103’ 7”), and Erin Hudson (St. Johnsbury; 102’ 10”).

U32’s Adam Gowans won the shot with his 49’ 4 ½” toss. Oxbow’s Dylan Hatin was second (46’ 9”), and South Burlington’s Connor Young went 44’ 3”.

In the discus it was Taylor Garner (Mount Mansfield) with a 133’ 4” throw, followed by St. Johnsbury's EJ Baer (130’ 4”) and Oxbow’s Dylan Hatin (126’ 3”).

The javelin was won by Hassan Dayo (Burlington), whose spear sailed 156’ 4”. Adam Gowan placed second with his 148’ 2” throw. And Russell Fox (Champlain Valley) rounded out the top three with his 147’ 5”.


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From start to finish, the meet was defined by excellence. Certainly, with the opening statement made by the Essex girls’ 4 X 8 team of Charlotte Murphy, Jenna Emery, Emma Farrington, and Rose Monahan, there was promise of much more to come.

After winning the first race of the day, their spokesperson, Rose Monahan, expressed humble, but lofty expectations.

“We were hoping to get a better seed time. We all have had better days, but not at the same time. We were hoping to do well just the same, and then see what we could do at the States next week. But we also hoped to break ten and we did. The school record is 9:37—from 2006. We’re definitely going to try to break that at the State Meet.”

The St. Johnsbury 4 X 8 boys, likewise, came in with a goal (of going sub-8:31), and just squeaked past that; they crossed in a 8:30.19.

PJ Wright, second leg: “Before today, our best was 8:31 at the Bob White Relays.”

Will Jones, opening leg: “I tend to run the 800 with consistent splits. Today I wanted to go out harder and kick the third 200.”

Callum Henning, third leg: “My contribution was to gain as much ground as I could. I didn’t see the competition for most of the race, but I knew that I was ahead of them.”

Kobe Richardson, anchor: “It was hard. I was struggling. I just wanted to stay ahead and make sure that if I ran out of gas, I didn’t get passed at the line.”

PJ: “The most important thing for Kobe was to get (us) out ahead of South Burlington so they didn’t catch him. That was right at the beginning of his leg; packing on the pressure.”

Kobe: “(At State) We’re going to try to cut it down (their time), and work on our weaknesses.”

The win was neither a one-person victory, nor a one-day effort.

PJ: “All of us run cross country.”

Callum: “It’s important to stay in shape.”

Kobe: “We’re all three sport athletes, so we don’t get a break. After indoor, we only had a week, so we kind of picked it up.”

PJ: “I play basketball (guard) and Callum does Nordic skiing. So with our being three sport athletes, we’re used to being in competition all the time.”

Will: “Our ultimate goal is to break our school record at New England. It is currently 8:14.2, from 2012.”

The “midway” 4 X 1 was won, on the girls’ side, by Mt. Anthony (Raheemah Madany, Taylor Gruber, Chelsea Corrow, and Leniesha Williams) in 50.47. The Champlain Valley boys’ team of Shane Hanlon, David Daley, Louis St. Pierre, and Tawn Tomasi  ran a winning time of 44.71.

The concluding race, the 4 X 4, was all about Burlington’s speed. Previous event winners Tobias Muellers (opening leg) and Makhail Abdinoor (anchor) teamed up with Ahmed Noor (#2) and Dan Hurt (#3) to run a spectacular 3:25.88 meet record.

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“I did not know we could run this fast today,” Tobias remarked. “We’ve been consistently around 8:30 all year; 8:33 coming in. But today, it all clicked. Good handoffs. We picked up seconds. Our second and third legs ran really well. That’s where we picked up all of our time.”

The splits were, approximately 49.4 (Muellers), 52.4 (Noor), 53.2 (Hurt), and 50.5 (Abdinoor). Their combined (official) 3:25.88 was a Division 1 and overall state record, the fourth that this meet produced.

“There was a lot of energy,” concluded Muellers.

On the girls’ side, St. Johnsbury won their 1600 meter relay with a 4:11.61. Their team consisted of Bettina Hammer, Robin Vincent, Hannah Ryan, and Alice Peck.


Note: Be sure to check this meet’s photo album. Subscribers to MileSplit will be able to “drag” their photos onto their own athlete’s page.

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Essex HS Track and Field Invitational

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