BRONX, N.Y. — Exeter High School's Jackie Gaughan has been dominating the local cross country scene. Now, she's earned a trip across the country to show her talents.
This is the biggie — the Foot Locker National Championships on Dec. 10 in San Diego.
Gaughan was second in the girls race Saturday at the Foot Locker Northeast Regional at Van Cortlandt Park in 17 minutes, 56 seconds. The top 10 finishers qualified for San Diego.
Alyssa Aldridge of Linwood, N.J., won the girls race in 17:41, while Noah Affolder of Carlisle, Pa., won the boys race (15:29).
Oyster River's Patrick O'Brien, another Seacoast runner enjoying a monster season, was third in the boys race in 15:38.
"I'm really excited about New Hampshire being well represented," said Gaughan, who was 34th last year at the regional as a sophomore and was mentored this year by O'Brien's mom, Cathy Schiro O'Brien, the 1984 Foot Locker regional and national champ.
"I'm definitely proud to represent New Hampshire," said O'Brien, who took 38th in 2015. "Jackie had a great race, too."
Both runners earned All-Northeast First Team honors.
Gaughan's race went out really fast.
"It was faster than I do," she said. "It caught me for a shock."
But she recovered and stayed with the lead pack.
Coach Joe Scascitelli said at the 1.25 mile mark, Gaughan was in fourth battling two other girls. Aldridge, the eventual winner, had a lead of 40 or so meters.
At that point, the trail went into the back woods, which is rolling, hilly and grueling one-mile section.
When the runners emerged from the woods and crossed the Henry Hudson Bridge, Aldridge was in front by 15 seconds. Gaughan was in second, holding a 30-meter lead over the third- and fourth-place runners. She held that to the finish line, beating Maria Coffin of Annapolis, Md., by four seconds. Thirteen seconds separated runners 2 through 9.
“That’s been her pattern the last few races,” Scascitelli said. “She hits that second mile and goes to work.”
The situation was similar in the Division I meet in Manchester and the New Englands in North Scituate, R.I. The middle mile was a hilly mile.
“She’s really tough on the hills,” Scascitelli said.
O’Brien was focused on San Diego.
“The entire race, I definitely wanted to qualify,” he said.
“Strategically, he ran a very smart race,” said coach Scott McGrath. “He pretty much executed the plan perfectly. We wanted Patrick to be in position to finish well and not have to worry about being nipped for 10th at the finish line.”
O’Brien was able to stay in the top-five range for most of the race. He came out of the woods in fourth and outran Elliot Gindi of Long Branch, N.J., to the finish line, and nearly caught the younger Affolder.
“Patrick had the best finish of anyone,” McGrath said.
Now Gaughan and O’Brien turn their attention to San Diego.
“I’m really excited to have the opportunity to run with the fastest runners in the nation,” said Gaughan, whose brilliant fall includes NHIAA Division I and Meet of Champions titles in record time, and then capturing New Hampshire’s first New England crown since 2006.
“I want to go out there and not expect anything, but to get pushed really hard,” she added. “I’ve gained more confidence. I knew if I ran as hard as I could (at the regional) I could do it.”
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