This & That

What does it take to put together a champion? There is “no one size fits all” plan to create a championship. This fall, the Bellows Falls girls cross country team used a little bit of this and a little bit of that to build a team that included no seniors but still found the talent, camaraderie, leadership, and love to capture the Vermont Division III State Championship.

cross country
From left to right: Ashley Bartlett, Shelby Stoodley, Molly Hodsden, Abby Dearborn, Stephanie Ager, Victoria Bassette, and Abby Broadley. Photo provided

Coach Tim Eno has always built teams from the bottom up. He would take a runner or two or three from each class and would usually have a flowing program, which would be competitive year after year. The truth is most of these teams were boys’ teams. In recent years, the numbers generally have not been there to have any consistency in the girls’ program.

Then, a couple of sisters named Hodsden, first Bridget then Molly, bound together to form half a team and it sort of built from there. Standout Lia Clark, a senior a year ago, was always the staple; but when others started to have interest enough for a team finally came along and the rest is history so to speak. The team actually went from one year not even having enough to compile a full team score one season to holding the championship trophy the next. Eno helped build that championship, but it came together so quick most of his coaching was on the run so to speak. More importantly, the next two, three, or more championships were being built on the heels of the first.

It is customary for me to sit down and speak to the coach and captains of state championship teams. In this case, there was a single captain, but there were two premium runners who finished in the top five in back-to-back title races. Even though she didn’t finish top five, I found out it all begins at each turn with the captain.

Junior captain Molly Hodsden was the first runner of this team to become a BFUHS harrier. She is also as responsible as the coach in attracting Terrier runners. Coach Eno tells me, “She was the glue that kept us together. She started a Facebook page. She gets everyone excited. She came to every summer workout and called everyone to get them there. She even called them and said she would pick them up if they needed a ride. She left me no choice with that type of leadership, but to make her captain.”

That was captain of a team that Eno expected to fare well. The veteran coach saw several runners returning from his 2018 championship squad, including three who had finished in the top ten and Hodsden, who was 21st. He said, “Last season, we had such a strong showing at the Division III State Meet, we destroyed everyone. Then, looking at the numbers, we only lost one significant scoring runner and, comparing it to the other teams, I knew only the Rice girls who had three juniors coming back and as seniors we all knew they were going to be hungry. I didn’t know at that time that we would be adding a couple runners, Victoria Bassette and Ashley Bartlett, but I was definitely confident.”

He was confident about a group of young ladies who had already proven themselves and would assure another Vermont State Title. All of this despite the fact that prior to 2018, no Terrier team had cracked the top three places in the state for close to 20 years.

Again, no other current runners were part of the team when Hodsden attended the last day of classes her freshman year. Both Eno and Hodsden knew Abby Broadley, who has won two individual state Division III titles in her two years, was about to enter the school and would be a strong addition, but two other current runners were in the team when practices began in August that year.

They were Broadley, Stephanie Ager, and sophomore Shelby Stoodley. Hodsden loves the sport, and new runners – especially the unexpected Ager who moved into the district from Keene, N.H. – surprised her and made her very excited.

Hodsden said, “During the summer, Mr. Broadley [assistant principal and Abby’s father] told me that there was a Keene girl that was joining the team; and when I found out who it was and that she was even way faster than I thought, I was ecstatic. My freshman year, we only had six people by the end of the season and weren’t experienced so I have always been excited about adding new runners. I want people to run and fall in love with the sport in general like I did. We went from where we were to now when I was a sophomore, we had more join and now I thought we could win states. When you have amazing runners joining, it pushes everyone to get better and when people become committed we could even get better and better.

Competing for Keene Middle School, Ager had a goal. She had forever wanted to catch and race by “that little one from Bellows Falls.” Each time the two schools were in a meet together, Ager had one goal: beat that Bellows Falls runner.

Ager said, “I had started running in fifth grade when I did running club. It was once a week. I started doing that because my brother Chris was a runner, and I always looked up to him, and for some reason, I just kept running. When I ran in middle school – when we ran against Bellows Falls, there was always one girl I wanted to beat. Every time I would race her, I would make a plan. I believed I could beat her if I tried really hard.”

That girl is Ager’s now teammate, Broadley. What a team they would become! Broadley has captured both Division III Vermont State Title races in their time together, while Ager has been right behind her just like in her Keene days with strong fourth and fifth place finishes assuring the Terriers of an incredible tandem atop the charts.

Ager has accepted her place behind Broadley now. But, at first, she didn’t have interest in attending another school and becoming a part of another team. She mentioned, “You know how it is. I had my friends and I wasn’t really excited, but when I had my tour, Mr. Broadley told me the potential of having a number of state championships. And we went into the gym and saw the banners and I became excited for this. I had been figuring out how I was going to beat Abby, but, even now, that hasn’t happened. I respect her more now and I see her as my friend. I now look up to her because of how fast she is, and I still hope there will be a day I can run as fast as her. I really knew early my freshman year that if she stays healthy, I will never beat her. She has always had that strength. Even now, I can be with her up to a mile, but then she starts to pull away. Now, having her on my team is a comforting feeling.”

Broadley had noticed Ager when she was in Keene as well, saying, “I am always paranoid about people who are competitive with me. I remembered her as the redhead with the white jersey. I worried about her a bit because she was always somewhere close behind me. I was worried at times, especially I remember the CVLs, that she could be a threat to me. I didn’t sleep much the night before that.”

One more of the Magnificent Seven joined this group a year ago. The season had already started and Abby Dearborn, now a junior, saw the potential and joined early after the competition began in the fall of 2018. At that time, she was already a member of the Terriers State Champion field hockey team and now has finished fifth and 16th in the final rankings in State Meets to help propel the runners to both of their crowns.

The final two pieces were brought onto the team this year in Bassette and Bartlett, who were just what was needed to add the depth of a successful finish atop Division III again. The two were 14th and 17th respectively in this year’s race.

Love was mentioned as a component in the team’s success, and no one spreads that around through the group better than Hodsden. She is usually the fourth, fifth, or sixth finisher on her team, but when top runners are missing she seems to peak and contribute. However, her leadership skills are beyond the reach of most high school captains. Eno’s praise is already mentioned, but both Hosden’s words and then some from the two premier runners capture her effectiveness.

Hodsden said, “I never worried about how we would perform as a team this year. I did think about how we didn’t have any seniors and how that would affect the team dynamics. I wanted to try to get everyone to love cross country as much as I do. There are always times when things happen and you wonder how those situations will affect the team; but truthfully, I was confident from day one that we would put in the work and get a state title.

“I don’t think of myself as a captain, I just want to be another teammate. When I started the Facebook page, I just followed the example that had been set from previous years. Sometimes in cross country, after running every single day, you can become kind of lazy so I pushed my teammates to do certain things. It makes someone way more motivated to make it through the practice and make yourself better. There were times when things were so stressful – after MVLs, when we had some under performing and we were disappointed that we didn’t win – when Burr & Burton beat us by a couple of points. It wasn’t good at all that we had under performed, but we knew we had under performed and we knew that was something we could fix. It’s not like we had to get ten times faster than we had ever been. We were capable of getting better and that was what we did for states.”

Broadley added, “Like Molly, I was kinda worried about how the seniors left. I didn’t know that without them to follow if we would do as good. Overall, we had a good team effort this year and came together and I am really proud of us as a whole. The state meet was very emotional for me because I love all of us winning together – it makes me happy. We had our times this season, but in the end, all the pain was worth it.

“Molly is our leader in pushing us on. I don’t feel comfortable in telling people what to do, but I will say to everyone, ‘we will win and that’s not cocky.’ I just feel we are capable of doing that, and I’m optimistic. If I talk about it, it becomes more likely we will do it.”

Ager also pointed out important aspects about leadership, noting, “Molly is good at talking to the whole team, but personally, I sometimes encourage my teammates or talk to them individually, although I said a few times I can do it, we have the strengths to win.”

Coach Eno went on to compliment each of his squad members.

Hodsden: “Never in my wildest dreams did I think Molly would run as fast as she has run. Her leadership qualities are unbelievable. She is the biggest reason for our success. She holds them together and makes them successful as a group.”

Broadley: “What more can you say? Two state titles. Course records in both the CVCs and the MVL this year. Finished first in every race except two. Whatever expectations I have for her, she exceeds them. I can’t hold her back. She’s driven by an inner motor.”

Ager: “Took a little while for her to get use to us and me as a coach, but she had an outstanding freshman year and has set a running standard that continues every day.”

Bassette: “What a great addition. She fit in nicely as our third runner and was consistent.”

Bartlett: “Another addition. Boy, are we lucky that she came out as a sophomore! She perfectly fit right in.”

Dearborn: “Had an injury and played two sports, but she made sure we had the depth to be successful.”

Stoodley: “She is someone who showed great improvement and, like Molly, came to every practice all year and set a PR.”

Two titles are in the book. Everyone is returning next season as of now. The sky is the limit. Will there be another new addition or two next year?

Abby Broadley is the best of the best in the division of runners in the state two years in a row. In many ways, she always had soccer in her blood, but how did she become a cross country runner?

She said, “That one’s kudos to my parents. When I was in third grade, they made me run Girls on the Run and in fourth grade too. You learn about your body and health practices – like we built up to running a 5k as a group. It was a health thing helping us to make new friends. It was nice, but I don’t talk much so I didn’t make new friends. But, I certainly got the running aspect of it.”

One thing is certain. All the Terriers let their feet do the talking.

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