TEWKSBURY — Fran Cusick must feel like Robert Irvine right now — he's trying to mix in a lot of ingredients to make the perfect dish, or in this case, starting line-up/team.
Cusick is taking over for Peter Molloy as the head coach of the Tewksbury Memorial High School girls' cross-country team.
Last year Molloy led the Redmen to a 6-4 regular season record, before finishing fourth at the MVC Championship Meet and seventh at the MIAA Division 3 Eastern Mass Championships.
Of the seven girls who participated at the Divisional Meet, four have since graduated leaving some giant holes. But on the flip side of that there's a handful of different types of athletes who can replace those voids between several injured runners who are healthy, several girls who left other sports to join this team, and several strong freshmen.
Those individuals will try to fight for spots along with the holdovers, which include the league and one of the state's best runners, a second All-Conference runner, and another experienced varsity runner.
"We have a good group this year," said Cusick. "They seem committed but we really don’t know how things will pan out because we didn’t do a time trial this year, so we’ll wait and see what happens but I’m excited."
Heading into this season, Billerica is the clear favorite to dominate league foes with all but one of its top runners back from last year. After that it's pretty wide open.
"I really don’t know too much of what the league is going to look like this year," said Cusick. "I know that Billerica is really strong and they will win the league, well I’m 99 percent sure of that. Otherwise, I think we can do pretty well. I think we could go 6-4 or 7-3, somewhere in that range."
If healthy, that seems like a pretty logical prediction. Tewksbury returns juniors Makayla Paige and Izzy Carleton, who are both coming off all-conference seasons, while senior Meghan Ostertag, who was a big fixture in the team's success as a freshman and sophomore, returns after injuries forced her to sit out last year's season and be a member of the Co-O Swim team instead.
Paige was the individual champion at the MVC Meet coming across at 18:50. Two weeks after that, she placed sixth overall at the D3 Eastern Mass Meet and then was the only representative from the team to advance to the All-States. There she placed seventh in the entire state with a time of 19:34.
Carleton emerged after transferring from Central Catholic and had a terrific season, finishing 10th at the MVC Meet and 34th at D4.
Add to that a healthy Ostertag, who back in 2017 as a sophomore, finished sixth at the conference meet, and the Redmen have quite the 1-2-3 punch.
"Obviously we have Makayla Paige and she’ll be one of the top runners in the league and if not the state," said Cusick. "Then we have also Izzy Carleton, who last year had a great cross-country season as an all-conference selection. We’re hoping between all of those kids, we can do pretty well. Makayla, Izzy and Meghan will be our top three in some combination."
After that, the scenarios are extremely interesting and no one really knows how things will unfold. Junior Erin Sands returns and she made significant progress over the course of last season and she'll certainly be in the mix. Seniors Shannon Crowley and Sarah Polimeno will add depth and are both coming off injuries. Neither of them were part of the team last year, but both have strong track and athletic backgrounds, while providing solid leadership.
"I think we look pretty good. We have five seniors, but only one of them was on the team last year which is kind of a unique situation," said Cusick. "Meghan Ostertag did swimming because she was injured and she was unable to run so we encouraged her to do that. Shannon Crowley didn’t run, Sarah Polimeno was out injured, so we have an interesting situation and dynamic there, but I really like what our team has been doing.
“Our team dynamic is great. The team is really getting along well and they all seem to be meshing and enjoying themselves."
There's also three other athletes who came over from another sport, including junior Jess Satterfield and sophomores Molly Cremin and Macy Chapman, all with a track background.
"We have a couple of kids who joined us, coming over from other sports and I think they will really be able to help us," said Cusick. "Molly Cremin and Macy Chapman, are both sophomores and Molly did cheerleading and Macy did soccer, so I think they are going to be pretty strong runners based on their track times. Jess Satterfield also came here from soccer and she’s more of a sprinter. She has really never done distance running before, so she is a bit of a wildcard, so we’ll see.
"Elise O’Leary is a sophomore and she ran really well towards the end of the last track season, so I think we have a pretty nice crew and then we’ll have Macy and Molly, Erin Sands, who is a junior and had a real nice summer training after being injured at first, and then Elise will be in the mix."
Cusick added that several freshmen also look very strong and could possibly crack the starting seven as well.
"We have some freshmen on the team in Emma Jensen, who ran for the Haverhill Elite Club so she has experience running track," he said. "I think she is a bit more of a middle distance runner, but she has a lot of talent. We have another freshman in Olivia Millspaugh, who has some experience running middle school cross-country.
“You never know with freshmen. They could be really good, but either way it’s going to take them some time to get acclimated to high school cross-country and the process of training every single day is different than what they are used to, so they are good to have on the team and I’m glad we have them."
Rounding out the team includes juniors Susanna Darrigo and Maria Luiza Da Silva, sophomores Victoria Allen, Erica Hinkle and Maisan Nguyen.
Tewksbury opened the season on Wednesday against Lawrence with results not known as of presstime.