A running shoe splashes a grassy puddle in the dark, only seen through the dim shine of Christmas lights. There’s a group of hundreds of athletes, led by runners in blue and white journeys. The air is cool and there’s cheering coming from every direction; it’s the perfect night for a race.
On Friday, October 13th, the Oyster River High School (ORHS) cross country team ran under the lights in Cape Cod at the Bob Glennon Twilight Meet. ORHS was the only school from New Hampshire in attendance, and they went to win. This meet was special for the team because not only did they win, but they also got the chance to race on a new course, against new teams, in the dark. Between all the races, every athlete on the Oyster River team ran a personal best time.
Ian Hricz (‘24), was proud of his teammates for the big win. “Even though it was supposed to be a fun meet and not taken too seriously, we really wanted to perform our best.”
The girls varsity team placed first overall, boys varsity placed third, and the combined teams won the meet. These wins were nothing new for the team, but racing in the dark was, and it changed the flow of the event. The course was lined with Christmas lights, and that was the only direction the racers got. “Really the only thing you can see is the people right next to you and the course itself, and the rest is just darkness, almost like you’re in a fog,” said Mitchell Keesee (‘25).
Patrick O’Brien, the head coach, was excited to bring the team to such a unique event. “Definitely one of the busiest high school meets I’ve been to,” he said. “From the second we got there it was very high energy, tons of teams, tons of people. The whole course was lit up and you could tell it was going to be a good time.”
The theme of the race was support, and everyone made sure to root for all the teams. Talia Banafato (‘24) loved the energy. “I’ve never had so many random people cheer for me.”
“It added a lot more excitement,” added Mackenzie Cook (‘25).
The energy before the race was high, and the team was happy to represent the granite state. Joey Hannon (‘24) recounts his reaction after hearing members from other teams talk about how great it was to see New Hampshire represented. “I kind of took that as they thought we were going to be bad, and so I took that to heart when I was racing.”
Banafato joked about the other teams’ reactions after the Oyster River win. “I think there was probably some saltiness around New Hampshire coming in and sweeping everything.”
This win took work, and the team put in everything they had to perform so well. “They all want to improve and want to work hard which makes my job a little easier,” said O’Brien.
Although every athlete improved, Brendan Banafato (‘27) took the cake for most improved. He cut off a minute and thirty seconds from his previous best time and won the JV race at 17 minutes and 33 seconds. “I was like, ‘I think I’ll do good cause it’s a flat course.’ I didn’t think I was going to win the whole meet,” he said.
The excitement generated from the unique meet brought many of the team members closer together and developed comradery among the entire team. “We got a lot of time to hang out and since we all improved, we were all very proud of each other,” said Keesee.
Everyone enjoyed the opportunity to spend so much time together. “Being on the bus for a whole day as a team was really fun,” said Banafato (‘24). “I think it showed how strong of a team we are and how close we are.”
Hricz thinks that this healthy bond might have been a leading factor in why there were so many improved times. “We do a lot of supporting each other which I think really plays a big role in our victory.”
As morale is high from last week’s twilight meet, the ORHS cross country team is hoping for a chance as finalists in the state meet this Saturday, October 28th, at the Darryfield Park in Manchester. “We definitely have a future ahead of us, and I’m excited for that,” said Haley Kavanagh (‘25).
O’Brien has high expectations for this week’s state meet, but he knows the team is up for the challenge. “We can’t control how other teams are going to do, but we can control how we’re going to do, and I think we’re going to be pretty tough to beat.”