BILLERICA — The Shawsheen Tech Boys and Girls Cross Country teams each wrapped their seasons this past Saturday, taking on CAC rival Essex Tech at the Charles H. Lyons Athletic Complex. Despite some strong individual efforts on both sides, the Rams could not keep up with the Hawks, who swept the meet, defeating the boys by a score of 26-33, while the girls dropped a 20-31 decision.
With the losses, the girls finished the season with a record of 4-3, while the boys finished at 3-3.
The boys actually competed very well against the talented Hawks, but just as their depth has worked in their favor on several occasions this season, the depth of the Hawks proved to be the difference in this one, as the Rams actually took three of the top five spots overall, but Essex dominated the rest of the top ten.
“Essex is a very good team and they have been for a while on both sides, especially the girls, so we knew going in it would be a tough test for both teams,” Shawsheen coach Pat Kelly said. “With the boys, we had some guys run really well, but their depth just hurt us. We could not match it.”
Essex took first place overall, behind a tremendous effort from Anthony Ianno, who outpaced the field in a time of 17:58, but the Rams took the next two spots behind their senior captains running in the last race of their careers, with Alex Smith finishing in a time of 18:39 and Paul Tower of Tewksbury following close behind in a time of 18:42.
Essex’s Kevin Rush took fourth place in a time of 19:25, but Rams junior Joe D’Ampolo of Tewksbury took fifth in 19:51. Unfortunately for the Rams, however, it was all Essex Tech from there, as the Hawks took the next five spots before Rams sophomore Ben Hollenbeck grabbed the 11th spot in a time of 20:43 and junior Andrew Stokes of Wilmington followed close behind in 21:04. Other top Rams finishers included Sam Quattrocchi (22:02), Logan Pyles (22:03) and freshman Will Biscan (22:17).
Hollenbeck’s time was a personal best, as was Biscan’s and both runners offer plenty of hope the future for the Rams.
“Last season as a freshman, you could see Ben steadily improving, so we were hoping he would come in this year and pick up where he left off,” Kelly said. “He did not do that, but he got better as the season went on, and had a PR against Greater Lowell which was impressive to see. Will had zero distance running experience heading into the season and he just got better as the year went on. He is fun to watch and he is fun in practice, but he works hard and he consistently got the job done.”
The Rams will need Hollenbeck, Biscan and many others to take their performances to an even higher level next season, as they will lose the services of Smith and Tower, who were not only the Rams top two runners, but also two of the top runners in the league.
“We lose our one and two guys, and I think they finished in the top three or four overall in every meet this year,” Kelly said. “I feel like we had two of the top eight runners in the league with them, so that is going to be tough to replace next year.”
But the cupboard is not bare for the Rams, who bring back a talented junior class next season including D’Ampolo and Stokes, as well as sophomore Hollenbeck and freshman Gordon Noble who along with Biscan also had an outstanding first season of high school cross country.
“We do bring back some talent, and we do have a very good junior class,” Kelly said. “We just need the kids to work hard in the off season to improve our depth going into next year.”
On the girls side, the Rams simply ran into a buzz saw with Essex, who with the win wrapped up an undefeated league record and the CAC title. Essex took four of the top five spots overall and seven on the top ten to coast to the 20-41 victory.
It wasn’t a lack of effort or lack of good performances that cost the Rams in this one. Rather, it was just a matter of facing a team that was just too deep and talented, as Essex has shown themselves to be all season long regardless of the opponent.
Essex’s Sofia Visconti took first place overall in a time of 22:00, just barely out sprinting Shawsheen junior Devin Sweeney, who finished in a time if 22:01. It was the second week in a row that Sweeney, in her first year with the team, has set a new personal best, knocking 16 seconds off of her time from the Greater Lowell meet.
In the Greater Lowell meet, Sweeney had stayed within striking distance of Greater Lowell’s Tealei Chandonnet, the top runner in the league. This time around she was even better, having to deal with not just one, but four top Essex runners to earn her spot.
“I actually think Devin beat the top three runners from Essex,” Kelly said. “I think the girl who won wasn’t their usual number one and surprised even their coaches. But Devin battled to the end and she did a great job. For someone with no real distance running experience, that is very impressive. She is just a great natural athlete. We are excited to see what she can do next season.”
Essex’s usual top three of Mikayla Vignault, Lily Robinson and Emily Ernst took the 3-5 spots in times of 22:38, 22:44 and 22:48 respectively, before Shawsheen senior captain Rachael Halas wrapped up her career with a sixth place finish in a time of 23:04.
Essex then took the next three spots before Shawsheen sophomore Hannah Lyle took tenth place in a time of 24:47, while junior Kaylee Gaffney of Tewksbury was 12th in a time of 25:24.
Lyle and Gaffney, along with of course Sweeney, will be two members of the girls team that Kelly is looking forward to seeing with the team again next season.
“Hannah and Kaylee took turns as out three and four runners this season, it seemed almost from meet to meet, so hopefully they come back strong again next season,” Kelley said. “And Sandra Watne (Wilmington) really came around for us this year too. Every week she became better and better and she could be there right next to Hannah and Kaylee next season.”
While the Rams will bring back a lot, they will miss the efforts of Halas, who had a tremendous career, finishing as the Rams top runner last season before being their number two this season, as well as Emily Pinto of Wilmington, who did not have the gaudy stats of Halas, but was a consistent performer all season long for the Rams.
“Emily will be a big loss for us,” Kelly said. “She couldn’t run this week and it definitely hurt us. We will definitely miss her next season.”