One of the most intense men's college cross country rivalries in New England could be seen this summer at Winnekenni Park in Haverhill.
Running the trails as representatives of UMass Lowell were Haverhill's Danny Wang and former Pentucket star Eric McDonald with an occasional appearance from All-American Angus MacDonald of Methuen and Central Catholic.
Stonehill College, meanwhile, boasted team leader Pat Fullerton of Haverhill, Andover's Scott Waller, Central Catholic grad Nate Webber of Atkinson, and St. John's Prep grad Sean Hanlon of Georgetown.
Undoubtedly, Haverhill sophomore Ethan Penney would have joined his Stonehill teammates had he not decided to go to Colorado for the summer.
Since Vinnie Fleming and Bob Hodge were All-Americans in the mid-'70s, UMass Lowell's cross country program has been among the top Division 2 programs in the country. Recently, however, Stonehill — which has been even stronger on the women's side — has been an impressive challenger to that dominance.
In fact, the Stonehill men have claimed four Northeast-10 titles since 2004 and two Northeast Regional crowns.
Last year was typical of the festering rivalry. UMass Lowell came out on top in the New England and regional meets and finished higher in the Division 2 NCAAs, but Stonehill came out on top in the Northeast-10 meet.
It should be more of the same this fall as the River Hawks are preseason No. 13 in Division 2 nationally while Stonehill is No. 19.
"And we think we might have won the regionals if our fifth man hadn't gotten an asthma attack," said Fullerton. "Our top four was right with their top four.
"It's a great rivalry. We're like friends off the track but, when we're racing, we don't like each other at all."
At the center of the current rivalry are Fullerton and MacDonald, their teams' top runners.
Fullerton, who transferred to Stonehill last year after two years at Division 1 Iona, prefers track to cross country. He finished 12th at the Division 2 nationals in the 1,500 last year. His personal best of 3:49.07 converts to a 4:07.33 mile.
He had plenty of success last year in cross country, too.
As the team's No. 2 man most of the season, Fullerton led Stonehill to the team title of the Trinity Invitational with a second-place finish, he came in fifth as Stonehill won the Southern Indiana Invitational, he was seventh at the NE-10 meet and he came in ninth at the East Regional.
After Brockton's Kevin Gill dropped out of school in the spring, Fullerton moved up to the team's No. 1 man.
"We ran together a lot but Kevin probably hurt me more than helped me," said Fullerton. "We used to race each other in practice. I was actually No. 1 for the first month of the season but then I started going downhill. I had done way too much work in the summer and I burned out.
"This summer, I tried to do just a lot of miles, without being so intense. I want to do better later in the season this year, become an All-American and just help the team. I've got more goals for track."
Throughout both cross country and track, Fullerton will once again see plenty of MacDonald. He defeated his Central Catholic rival on a regular basis in high school, but that was before MacDonald stepped it up several notches.
An All-American in cross country when he finished 37th in 32:29.4 for 10K at the Division 2 nationals, MacDonald also placed third in the East Region and fifth in the NE-10. He was All-New England in two events (distance medley and 3,000) in track.
When they met last year, Fullerton did beat MacDonald three times in the 1,500, but MacDonald prevailed in the 1,000 and came out on top every time in cross country.
"He (MacDonald) has gotten so much better since high school, it's unbelievable," said Fullerton. "He whipped me pretty good in cross country."
For his part, MacDonald enjoys the duels.
"It's a big rivalry, but it's pretty friendly," he said. "It's cool to have that rivalry back that we had in high school. It helps you judge how you're doing. Pat's a great runner and I'm always looking to beat him. We go back and forth."
Explaining his impressive improvement as a collegiate runner, MacDonald said: "I owe a lot of it to the program we have here at Lowell. It's more of a strength program with a lot more mileage than I ever had.
"We didn't do as much mileage in high school, which I think was good. A lot of high mileage guys in high school aren't ready for it in college and they burn out."
Unlike Fullerton, MacDonald prefers cross country to track ("I like the team aspect and it's more fun, more interesting.")
He's aiming to finish higher at the Division 2 nationals this year, preferably among the top 15 individuals, and help guide the River Hawks to more titles.
And, of course, along the way, he and his local teammates will definitely want to trounce their rivals at Stonehill.
Name, Year, High School, Comment
Pat Fullerton, Sr., Haverhill
No. 1 runner on returning NE-10 champs
Ethan Penney, So., Haverhill
Finished 20th in 2009 NE-10 meet
Nate Webber, Fr., Central Catholic
Showing great promise
Scott Waller, Fr., Andover
MVC Division 2 MVP last fall
Sean Hanlon, So., St. John's Prep
800-meter star shows talent
UMass Lowell River Hawks
Name, Year, High School, Comment
Angus MacDonald, Sr., Central Catholic
Team leader, returning All-American
Danny Wang, Jr., Haverhill
Prefers track, beat old teammate Fullerton once last year
Eric McDonald, Jr., Pentucket
Looking strong after so-so track season