WESTFIELD — On Saturday afternoon, Tewksbury Memorial High School sophomore Makayla Paige became the fifth female — and the youngest — in the history of the Outdoor Track-and-Field program to capture an All-State Championship title.
Paige beat out an extremely talented field which included her friend and Merrimack Valley Conference for Nicole Anderson of Billerica, as well as an outstanding runner named Emma Sullivan of Shepard Hill.
Paige had the lead just about throughout the entire race with Anderson right on her heels until she was able to get a little bit of breathing room on the final straightaway. She came across at 2:08.11, which was better than Anderson at 2:09.42 and Sullivan at 2:11.75.
"Makayla ran great," said TMHS head coach Fran Cusick. "It's never easy to win an All-State Championship. I think sometimes when kids are that good that you take it for granted. To be the best in the entire state in your race is pretty special. She is just a sophomore, so she had immense pressure and was the number one seed."
After last week's Division 3 Eastern Mass Championship Meet in which Paige won both the 800 and the 400-meter hurdles, while setting meet records in both events, while also part of the third place 4x400 relay team, no one really knew which events she would be doing at the most dynamic meet in the state.
"We had a big debate of what events she should do — whether it was the 400-meter hurdles and the 800, or the 800 and the relay," said Cusick. "We went back and forth on it and I'm not sure there was a right decision, but I'm glad with the way it worked out."
Despite being the No. 1 seed in the hurdles — an event she just took up this year, including having the best time out of sophomores in the entire country — Paige's decision was made on the best interest of the entire team, wanting the 4x400 relay team to have the best chance possible of excelling.
By only doing the two events, it enabled her to push a bit more in the 800, which is something she had to do with Anderson on her side.
“I felt her right on my heels and I was thinking just to keep going,” said Paige. “The race went out a lot faster than I had expected it to. At that point I was just thinking how fast can you finish? I just tried to finish up as fast as I could, but I’m in so much pain.”
Anderson who is a remarkable runner as well, sat with Paige before the race, chatting and stretching, and after the race to chat about how the two underclassmen runners from the same conference and neighboring towns, finished 1-2 in the entire state.
“We understand that we really race together,” said Anderson. “It is a rivalry but it’s not unhealthy. It’s not that we need separation. I feel like it’s a lot easier to run side-by-side with a friend. It’s a really, really incredible bond that we do have and we can go out and say hey ‘maybe I’ll win today, maybe she’ll win today. We don’t know what’s going to happen but we can push each other to the greatest lengths that we can.
“We’ve been racing against each other, rather with each other on a very regular basis ever since (Paige) got into high school. To be able to come to such a high stakes meet and be able to keep compete with her is incredible. I know that she definitely pushed me to run the times that we did today. We came through (the first half of the race) at a ridiculous pace. At that point, I was just thinking to hang on."
The win puts Paige up there with the other four Tewksbury winners — Beverly Luken who did it in 1983 and 1984 in the 100, Mary Brady in the 400 back in 1993 and fairly recently, Kristen Judge in the high jump in 2008 and Rachel Sessa in the mile back in 2016.
"The place finish really doesn't matter to me," said Paige. "If I had finished in fifth place but had a personal record time, I would have been just as happy."
Paige then closed out her day with a fantastic split as she was part of the 16th place 4x400 relay team.
"She had a great race and also had a real nice time as part of the 4x400 relay," said Cusick. "Makayla is not going to do New Englands. She's going to compete at Nationals and we're not sure exactly what she's going to do there just yet but she will be at Nationals (in North Carolina)."