NORTH ANDOVER — If you haven't heard of Makayla Paige or haven't seen her perform yet, shame on you. You are really missing out.
Once again she proved that her talents on the track supersedes anything we have really seen before.
The sophomore sensation did it again on a blistering hot Sunday morning/afternoon. She won both the 400-meter hurdles and the 800-meters, setting new meet records in both events, to help lead the Tewksbury Memorial High School Girls' Outdoor Track-and-Field team to a second place finish during the Division 3 Eastern Mass Championship Meet held at Merrimack College.
Her time of 61.61 in the hurdles — an event she just started this year — bested the previous mark set by Medfield's Alex Stanton of 61.96 back in 2010 and then her time of 2:11.52 topped the previous mark set by Milton's outstanding runner Collette O'Leary, who had a time of 2:12.51 back in 2016.
Now in just two outdoor seasons — not counting her numerous accomplishments in cross-country and indoor track — Paige is the two-time Division 3 winner in the 800, while last year she was also a part of the D3 champion 4x800 relay team. In addition, she has two individual league championship titles and finished fourth in the entire state in the 800 last year as a freshman.
"I think what Makayla does is make incredible things seem normal," said head coach Fran Cusick. "We're so used to seeing her perform at an insanely high level that when she does it yet again it seems like a normal occurrence, even though winning two events at a divisional meet in record setting times is obviously not something you see everyday."
What you also don't see everyday is the incredible sportsmanship she displays. In her two events, she has formed great friendships with Elise O'Leary, last year's D3 champion in the hurdles, who she beat out on Sunday, and Billerica's Nicole Anderson, who Paige beat out to win the 800 at the MVC Meet two weeks ago and is now seeded second behind Paige in this Saturday's All-State Meet to be held at Westfield State College.
"It's good to become friends because you have someone to talk to before races," said Paige. "Elyse is just really kind and she will talk to anyone. She's always just really, really nice to people and not like 'get away from me'. She is just so welcoming."
While they have formed a friendship, the two of them much like Paige and Anderson, are also competitors. All three athletes are certainly among the best the state has seen and that was evident with the classic battle in the 400-meter hurdles.
O'Leary had the lead for most of the race until the final turn when Paige was able to catch up a bit. The two were neck-and-neck down the final straightaway, until Paige edged out slightly right before hitting the last hurdle, before really stretching out the lead after clearing the last hurdle.
"We both started out fast and I was like 'OK this is fine' but then I started getting nervous with how far ahead she was," said Paige. "By the start of the second turn, I was like 'oh my gosh, I'm not going to be able to catch her'. Then down the final straightaway we were neck-and-neck. Elyse is such an amazing runner, so (to be able to beat her) is just awesome."
O'Leary ended up coming at 63.07, a full second-plus behind Paige. The third place finisher was over four seconds behind Paige, while the eighth place finisher was over seven seconds behind.
"I was surprised that I got a personal (and meet) record because I didn't feel like I was moving that fast and plus my hurdle form was pretty bad. My arms were flailing everywhere," said Paige with a laugh. "I think me and Elyse may have bumped hands on the last straightaway (on the second to last hurdle). When it happened, I was freaking out and I just felt so bad."
The contact was totally incidental and O'Leary immediately denied that it had any bearing whatsoever on the outcome.
"I'm proud of the way Makayla competed, especially in the 400 hurdles where she had a tough matchup with one of the toughest runners in the state in Elise O'Leary," said Cusick. "Makayla's hurdle form is something she has been working on with Coach (Peter) Molloy and while she's still not a perfect hurdler she is growing more confident with each race. I am looking forward to seeing what she can do at All-States."
After some time to rest and stay in the shade, Paige was back at it for event No. 2, the 800-meters. Last year at the D3 Meet, she finished first with a time of 2:14.12 and then followed that up with a fourth place finish in an absolutely loaded field at the All-States with an even better time of 2:12.22.
On Sunday, after not competing in the event for several weeks since her blistering performance at the Louks Games in New York, Paige finished at 2:11.52, meaning in one year, she has knocked her time down by 2:12, which is absolutely mind-boggling.
On top of that, she won the race by almost nine full seconds with North Reading's Grace Hadley, second at 2:20.38 and the eighth place finisher was over 22 seconds behind.
"The whole last lap I felt I was going to die. My legs were tingling and I couldn't feel them at the end (of the race) but that feeling did go away fast," she said. "I really wasn't expecting (the record). I was just hoping to run the best races that I possibly could."
When Paige came down the final straightaway, the meet announcer made it clear that she had a chance for the meet record, even though she battled some wind throughout the entire race.
"When I first coming down (the final straightaway) I was thinking that there was no way I was going to get the record because the last lap just felt so slow," she said. "Then as I got closer, I realized I had a chance for it and I just said to myself to keep pumping your arms and you'll make it to the end."
To the end she did, with two first places and two meet records to boot.