By David Willis
---- — Even with all of her success, Andover track star Courtney Comeau admits clearing a hurdle in the most pressure-packed situations can still be a daunting task.
“What makes hurdles so tough is that it’s not just about running and jumping,” said the Golden Warrior junior. “Hurdles is in your head, and sometimes you will get that mental block. I had one last year before nationals. I just had to ask myself, ‘Why am I scared? I know how to hurdle.’ Once you get past that, you can succeed. You have to have that confidence.”
The way Comeau and the rest of the Andover High girls hurdling crew have performed, confidence is certainly growing around the Collins Field House.
This winter, Comeau has continued to establish herself as one of the premier hurdlers in Massachusetts, while sophomore teammates Jillian Gamache and Hannah Chapman have each emerged as top contenders in the state, with all three qualifying for New Balance Nationals Indoor Nationals in March.
The trio hit their highest note yet on Saturday at the Division 1 state meet, when each ran a career-best time and Comeau (second) and Gamache (fifth) each scored points with top-five finishes, the only team to place two runners in the top 8.
“Our goal going into Saturday was to all set a PR,” said Gamache. “And we all ran better than we even thought. We have a lot of fun practicing together, and we also push each other. I wouldn’t be anywhere near as good if I wasn’t running against them every day, and their advice and encouragement helps me so much.”
Comeau, of course, was born to complete in the hurdles.
“I was basically born onto the track,” joked Comeau, the daughter of longtime Andover coach and former Golden Warrior great Peter Comeau.
“By the time I was in elementary school I was going to track camps and running hurdles. I was always very at home there. When I was a freshman Emily Belluche got mono and I was put into my first varsity race. That’s when it got real.”
After an impressive freshman campaign, Comeau broke out last year, winning the 55-meter hurdles at MVCs in the winter, then taking the 100 hurdles at MVCs and the Andover Boosters Meet in the spring.
She has continued that emergence this winter, reaching a new high with her career-best 8.68, just behind the event’s winner.
“My goal was just to break the top 5 and run faster than a 9.78,” she said. “After I finished that race, I was so excited I put my hands up and wanted to cry. I was thinking, ‘Is this real?’ When you know you ran a good time it is such a good feeling, and it’s always great to see my dad, because when I run a good time he jumps up and is just like, ‘Yes!’”
While she is only in the midst of her junior campaign, she has also taken the role of athlete/coach.
“I rely on Courtney a lot to work with the hurdlers when I am coaching the sprinters,” said Peter Comeau. “When she is coaching them I know they are in great hands. And there are times I can get frustrated, and she can get the drill across. She’ll just look at me and say, ‘Dad, I’ll take care of it.’ She has worked so hard to accomplish all she has done.”
It was during one of Courtney’s victories last season that then-freshman Gamache had an epiphany.
“I was kind of struggling and I never thought I could run 9.00,” she said. “Then I saw Courtney do it and I thought, if she can do it maybe I can too. Hannah and I have just followed her and tried to copy her in drills.”
Gamache entered Saturday’s meet with a personal record of 9.14, but first PRed in the preliminaries (8.99), before shattering that mark with a 8.91 in the finals, good for fifth overall.
“That was such a relief because I had been working to break nine seconds for so long,” she said. “And I was seeded eighth, so I never thought I would end up fifth.”
Not far behind her was classmate Chapman, who ran an impressive PR of 9.10.
It is that competition within the team that the group says motivates them.
“Working with Hannah has been so great because we are always right together, and she is great,” said Gamache. “I could not ask for more from this group. Having them all next to me, making me go faster, is why we PR. We push each other.
A fourth star of the group is freshman Lizzie Kobelski, who has had to deal with being the odd person out despite her skills.
“Lizzie would be the top hurdler on just about any other team in the region,” said Peter Comeau. “But she couldn’t run in a lot of our varsity races because of the great junior and sophomores ahead of her. But she’s excellent.”
While she faces plenty of competition in practice Kobelski — who is cousins with Courtney Comeau, star thrower Cassie Kobelski and boys sprinter Cam Farnham — is thrilled to have them around her.
“Courtney, Jillian and Hannah are amazing and just getting better,” she said. “It’s cool to watch them do so great, and each of them has taught me so much. I’m lucky to be running with them.”