Shawsheen Tech’s Rachael Halas

Shawsheen Tech’s Rachael Halas returns to this year’s Cross-Country team. (file photo).

BILLERICA – While last season did not bring a Commonwealth Athletic Conference title to the Shawsheen Tech Girls Cross Country team, it was another tremendous year for the Rams, who have made a habit of being among the top team in the CAC on a yearly basis.

And while they couldn’t quite match the history making perfect 12-0 season of 2018, the Rams did still manage to post an impressive 9-3 record, which included a fourth place finish at the CAC Meet as well as a fourth place finish at the Massachusetts State Vocational Meet.

The Rams will be looking for the same type of success this season, but it will not be easy, as they are not quite as deep as in recent years due to low numbers. That being said, while they will certainly miss the talents of Wilmington’s Jessica Stevens, and Tewksbury’s Rybekah Marsh, both of whom performed very well last season, they did not lose very many runners off of last year’s team.

The Rams also bring back a talented group of athletes, led by their number one runner Rachael Halas of Billerica, along with many other of their top runners from a year ago.

“I am fairly optimistic. We bring some good runners back, so we have some good returning talent,” Shawsheen coach Pat Kelly said. “However, our numbers are a bit down, so I am not sure if that is a sign of the times where people just aren’t out and about, but our numbers are down a little bit. We have some good young talent that we are hoping can contribute as well.”

Halas will of course lead the way once again for the Rams. She is coming off a pair of sensational seasons for the Rams, including last season as a sophomore when she took a fourth place finish at the CAC meet in a time of 22:31 and a fifth place finish in the state vocational meet in a time of 22:58.

“We are hoping Rachael continues to find success as one of the top female runners in the league,” Kelly said.

Some other runners who are expected to contribute this season after having very good seasons last year include senor Kelley DeLosh, who was 21st at the CAC Meet in a time of 24:30, as well as sophomore Hannah Lyle, who had an outstanding freshman season with a 28th place finish at the CAC Meet.

Junior Kaylee Gaffney of Tewksbury has also come into camp primed for a good season after training hard in the offseason.

“I am excited to see what Kaylee can do this season,” Kelly said. “You can tell she has worked out all off season, so that will be exciting to watch.”

The Rams captains this season will be Halas, DeLosh and Stephany Krusper of Tewksbury. The trio are all obviously talented runners, but Kelly is looking for more than just talent from his captains.

“Some of it has to with years on the team, some of it has to do with performance, but the majority of it is how are they as a leader,” Kelly said. “We try to pick the people who come out and lead by example. Of course, we like when there is longevity, but it is not limited to that. When they come out and train hard and then perform well, that is what we are looking for. And when I say perform well, I don’t even mean they have to come in first place.

“When they come out and perform at their optimal ability is what we are looking for. And those kids have those qualities that we are looking for.”

There are several changes the Rams and other cross country teams around the state will have to adjust to this season, including staggered starts and the wearing of masks at all times while running, except when more than six feet away from any other runner. It is still a work in progress, but Kelly feels like both the boys and girls teams are adjusting well to the changes.

“We have been stressing that. If you are running as an individual you can take your mask down, but as soon as you approach somebody you have to put it back up. It is for the safety of themselves and the safety of everyone,” Kelly said. “They are a great group and have been very receptive. We are not getting any negative feedback on that. They understand, and they are just doing a very good job of getting it done.”

Another big change for the Rams this season will be their home course at Shawsheen. The Rams course has long been considered one of the toughest in the CAC, but with changes required by the MIAA in order to allow for social distancing while passing, the Rams had to alter their course.

“Our former course had this really nice hill that was a major deterrent to our opponents, so we are disappointed to lose that,” Kelly said. “We still have the same elevation game roughly, however we don’t have that same hill. The new course still hits the three-mile mark, so it has the distance, I just don’t know that it’s as challenging as the old course”

With no post season meets and only seven meets overall this season, it might be hard to evaluate just how good this Rams team is, but Kelly is looking forward to seeing them improve as the season goes on.

“We have a good group of seniors on the girls side, along with a good group of incoming freshmen, so we have some depth,” Kelly said. “We have a lot of kids who have come into camp in shape, and have trained really hard so I am hoping to see them do well and set some PR’s, while some others have not. But we will work with them to build them back into shape.

“And then we have some kids who have never run before, so we will build them up to reach their full potential as well.”

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