TEWKSBURY – At the completion of last season, certainly head coach Fran Cusick was optimistic about the future of the Tewksbury Memorial High School Girls Cross-Country team, especially the 2020 season.
Coming off a 6-4 regular season and then an 11th place at the Division 3 Eastern Mass Championship Meet, the Redmen were returning its entire team with the exception of it's No. 2 runner all season, Meghan Ostertag, who is currently a freshman at American University and has since come back as a volunteer coach.
The team's No. 1 runner Makayla Paige finished 10th in the entire state last year, and the week before she was fourth at the divisionals and after Ostertag's 12th place finish, the following five runners were all freshmen and sophomores.
Now less than a year later, the optimism is still there, but because of COVID, the team won't be able to compete in those post-season meets.
"With everything that has happened, we are just happy to have some kind of season," said Cusick. "It may not be the ideal season that we want for cross-country, but it's better than nothing, It would have been tough if they said that there would be no season at all. In some other states they are having full head on meets.
“I do understand that they want to be cautious and want to make sure that this doesn't spread, but it is unfortunate that we have to miss out on some of those memorable meets. We can take what we can at this point."
After not having a spring track season, Cusick said that overall this cross-country team is probably ahead of what he had expected.
"There’s been no racing for seven months, although a couple of our runners, Makayla Paige and Emma Jensen, participated in meets here and there put on by the New England Elite Track club in New Hampshire. By and large we have just been getting in solid training for much of the last seven months. This hiatus has been good and bad for our team and for distance runners in general. For some, it was a much needed respite from the grind of season after season of competition and practices."
Paige will return as the team's top runner once again. She is All-Scholastic selection, who is headed to UNC next year on an athletic scholarship.
"I think for someone like Makayla Paige, for example, having a period of time without racing or intense training was a boon to her mental and physical health as it allowed her a break that never would have occurred under normal circumstances," said Cusick. "It’s also been good for runners who are very intrinsically driven and who are independent. On the other hand, there are a lot of athletes, both on our team and throughout the state and country, that felt very much adrift without the clear sense of purpose that racing and structured practices provide."
Besides the races that Paige and Jensen competed in, many of the runners participated in assistant coach Fred Doyle's running camp held over the summer.
"Most of them got some good mileage and strength training in and were able to connect with each other two to three times per week over summer,” said Cusick. “Our junior class is very strong this year with Maci Chapman, Molly Cremin, and Elyse O’Leary being returning varsity runners. They all ran under 22:00 in the 5K last year, which is a great mark for a sophomore, so if they can get back to that level they’ll give us a solid core.
“Makayla should be our number one runner and one of the top athletes in the league. Senior Izzie Carleton was our number three last year behind Makayla and the graduated Meghan Ostertag. Izzie is a great competitor who is hoping to close out her senior year on a high note.”
Last year during the post-season meets, Carleton didn't compete but the year before she was an All-Conference selection as one of the top runners in the league. She certainly has strong potential, while the rest of the returners include Maci Chapman, Molly Cremin, Jensen, Elyse O'Leary, and Olivia Millspaugh, who were all underclassmen last year.
Senior Erin Sands is battling a minor foot injury and last year she was 52nd at the league meet.
“Our two sophomores, Olivia Millspaugh and Emma Jensen, both had great seasons last year and look to be in much better shape this fall than they were last year,” said Cusick.
Maria DaSilva, Maisan Nguyen, Erica Hinkle and Victoria Allen all participated in last year's MVC JV Championship Meet and certainly should be better this year and provide great depth.
Newcomers this year include junior Tierney Trant as well as freshmen Hailie Gonzalez and Cassidy Paige.
“Cassidy is one of the fastest sprinters on the team and it will be interesting to see how she transitions to cross-country,” said Cusick.
Cusick also pointed out that Ostertag as well as Carina Berglund, a former standout runner at TMHS who graduated from UNH, have returned as volunteer coaches.
“Both are fantastic people that will be great role models for the girls,” he said.
The season will open with a home meet on Friday against Billerica. Besides not having a league champion or the other post-season meets, the other changes this year is during dual meets, there will be waves of five runners at a time, each going out four minutes apart, while the start and finish lines will be wider this year, so there will be proper social distancing.