Happy New Year! Another year is in the books and the Patriots win on New Years’ Day and a Rose Bowl Game for the ages, have most local sports fans already looking forward for a lot more of the same throughout 2017. Just think, 2016 concluded with four area state titles in the closing weeks and the Celtics and Bruins getting hot, just after the Red Sox took part in a Sale transaction, so just keep the snowball rolling. I will pretend I didn’t notice that the Bruins really laid a stink bomb the night before I wrote this piece to open their 2017 cause. Space here has been at a premium in recent weeks, because we have been doing those well-earned local championship salutes, thus some catching up to do.
One team, which did not earn a title in 2016, should not be forgotten during the magnificent fall, is the Bellows Falls Cross Country team. Bellows Falls Union High School earned two of the four fall area sports titles and the truth is, they almost had one more to raise a banner for. Coach Tim Eno has been there and done that, when it comes to putting title banners up on the walls of Holland Gym; there are ten titles in track and field and cross country combined, mostly track and field. From a local standpoint, one this year if it had been captured, might have ended up among the most appreciated ever.
In the dog days of August, the Terriers were among a number of hopefuls to be in the mix for the state crown. They had talent enough, yet when things were said and done, they fell short because they didn’t have Tallent enough. This is a particular reference to Terrier senior Cody Tallent.
It was a strange season because Tallent was on again off again. Putting together a championship team, means all the essential parts need to blend just right and this group of Purple and White runners were at times right on pace. Then one has to factor that Tallent effect into the equation
The excellent veteran Terrier Harrier finished fifth individually, in the Vermont Division III State Meet a year ago. He had worked hard to be ready to lead his team into the mix this time around. Athletes at Rice, Northfield, Stowe, Oxbow and Peoples had the same dreams and in many ways, 2016 could turn out to be a wide open meet with many teams still holding title hopes on the last day of the season. Everything was progressing well in the Falls and then it happened. Tallent went down with an ankle injury and his overall condition would take the Terriers athletes, coaches and fans on a journey that had as many ups and downs as your typical roller coaster ride.
The team went a long stretch of the season without Tallent and the hope was, the senior could get back for the state meet. The Terriers went through their schedule and daily practices working to get better individually, in hopes it would all come together in the end. Eno’s job was to drive them each day, knowing full well that a mere seconds by any of the performers, could make the difference come November 5th as to whether the 2016 team would put in a bid for the state title.
Eventually there was more sun in Bellows Falls. The rest of the squad was showing progress and Tallent started running again. Eno knew the competition was going through their paces too; with each passing day, it looked like the Terriers were lining up for the big day. Tallent ran quite well in the last regular meet of the season and then…
Tallent went down again a couple of days later. Exactly five days before the race. He had been doing so well, but now things really looked bleak. There was a strong possibility that he would not be able to run in the state meet at all. Time was the answer and the Purple and White did not have much of it remaining on their side. Each day proved to be both long and short. Hours and minutes went by so quickly and then eventually, the time came and Tallent would give it his best and that is what he did.
The stars aligned on November 5th at the starting line and eventually in the holders of fate. What no one knew at the time was, the Vermont Division III State Title Cross Country run would be historical. Four schools would create the closest competition ever seen. When the dust settled, Rice would win a run off, which would shake the annals of the sport. Only five points would separate the top four teams. Four teams actually rose to the occasion, however only one could and would win. Actually it was so close, that initially the wrong score was announced. The wrong champion might have walked away the winner. When the t’s were eventually crossed and all the i’s were dotted, the final numbers were Rice 60, BF 62, Northfield 63 and Stowe 65. Amazing, remarkable, unbelievable! Four teams achieved highly, yet only one won.
How did Tallent do? He did both remarkable and unbelievable and maybe even amazing. He did better than you could ever imagine. He was running five days after he had re-injured his ankle and almost pulled it out.
For the record, Tallent finished 11th. However, who could have asked for more? Just running was a gutsy triumph in reality.
The rest of Tallent’s team did their job as well. Their performance was good enough to defeat all, except Rice. Jackson Purdy was not far behind Tallent in 14th and then quickly came Tim Salter-Roy in 18th and then Nick Potter completed the scoring in 23rd. What a showing! Although only four runners are counted for the team score in the Division III competition, there was more of a team effort. You see Eno’s team has seven members and all of them are of top-notch caliber. They are Neil Diamond good that they were all within 13 seconds of the fourth runner of two of the three teams in the running for the title. Cam Joy, who Eno says, “ran an awesome race,” finished 28th followed by youngsters Ian Wallace 38th and Gabriel Hakimoglu 39th. There were 109 runners, who finished the race and all seven Terriers were in the Top 39. What a performance!
Eno certainly had an impact on the success of his team. He had a very special story to tell about how he thinks this team reach such heights on this day. The team was going through their pre race warm-ups, putting in their time loosening up in the woods when Senior Purdy took over. He pulled the team aside at a remote alone spot in the middle of the woods and laid it all on the line.
Eno remembers, “I didn’t see this coming. All of a sudden, he gave this great speech, which moved all of us. He talked about the pride he had, running with his teammates and how he was determined that this team would put it all together on this day. He said more than once how proud he was to be a part of this and of the team going out now and making it happen.” Eno’s story was a very special one. Purdy’s speech was equally as impressive and sturdy. It inspired everyone and they responded as he asked.
The BF Terriers including the injured Tallent doing everything his body would allow, went out and ran a tremendous race. They proved they were loaded with character. Unfortunately, the race results said they performed well, but Rice was the champion. We are still looking for the moral of this tremendous story. It’s hard to pick up, surrounded by the disappointment. What would have happened if Tallent had not been injured a second time? That answer is easy, BF would have won.
Until I think of something better, I am left with it is better to have run, than to not have run at all. The experience is the thing. In the end, the brotherhood these athletes have formed, which was highlighted by Purdy’s speech in the woods, underlines the real success on this day and season. Is there anything greater than friendships, that bond people together, to allow them to achieve more than one would expect.
Long live every banner on any wall, but the Bellows Falls Cross Country team should never be forgotten. Chances are they won’t be.