Byline: Steve Farley
TOWNSEND -- If North Middlesex senior captain Chris Skelly has learned anything over his stellar career, it's to take nothing for granted.
The 2013 T&G Hometeam Magazine Runner of the Year undoubtedly will be the odds-on favorite to repeat as the Central Mass. Division 1 champion later this season at Gardner Municipal Golf Course.
Last November, Skelly held off rival and friend Connor Murphy of St. John's by 13 seconds, finishing the 2.9-mile course in a blazing 14 minutes, 55.7 seconds. Another rival and friend, former Nashoba Regional standout Mark Puleo, was third.
A week later in Gardner, Skelly finished 41st at All-States in 15:26.
With Murphy and Puleo gone, Skelly's top rivals are expected to be Wachusett Regional junior Grant Hauver, St. John's junior standouts Peter Monahan and Harry Molloy, and Shrewsbury's 1-2 punch of senior Tyler O'Keefe and junior Jackson Southard.
The 5-foot-10, 131-pound Skelly admitted he's definitely going to miss competing against Murphy and Puleo.
"Every year, there's always a new set of challenges,'' said Skelly, who turns 18 on Sept. 18. "Grant, Harry, Peter -- they have gotten a lot better every year. It's really fun to race against them because it's always a great race. There's definitely kids who are trying to fill their shoes. Shrewsbury always brings guys rated high up. I'm really excited for the season.''
Patriots second-year coach Suzanne Williams, who also guides the girls' squad, said Skelly is one of the two best harriers she has ever coached, the other being former Wayland star Brett Baker.
"They have similar talent, and they have similar level of ability,'' said Williams, who also previously coached track at Notre Dame Academy and Algonquin Regional. "He's definitely a smart athlete. He's someone who really loves the sport. He's someone, who in terms of motivational level and amount of knowledge he has about the sport, has superseded anybody I've coached in that respect. Chris is not going to let anything stand in his way of achieving his goals.''
One of Skelly's main goals this season is to break the school record on North Middlesex's 3.1-mile course.
Skelly's personal best on his home trail is 16:20, but is trying to catch former Patriots great Dave Hausherr, whose top time was 16:07. Hausherr ran at LaSalle University.
"I try not to focus that way, otherwise, I'd get stressed,'' said Skelly, whose older brother Michael was a standout runner at North Middlesex and is...