TEWKSBURY – When the Town Crier started to compile possible names for the Female Athlete of the Decade, a pattern started when a number of multiple seasoned cross-country and track athletes were mentioned. Eventually when the list was trimmed down to ten, six females had participated in one of those two sports at TMHS and five of the six went to outstanding Division 1 college programs including Bucknell University, Jacksonville University, Boston College, Villanova and lastly Georgetown University.
The one who went on to and is still at Georgetown University, Rachel Sessa, became the winner, voted by a 10-person panel. She edged out a large group of other talented runners, hockey, softball, soccer and basketball stars.
Rachel Sessa was not just a runner at TMHS. She played two years of soccer, and then switched over to cross-country and finished tied with her sister as the best runner in the conference, an amazing feat.
While Rachel has the stamina and quickness to win races, you could give her any kind of ball or put her in any other sport and she would excel, she is just that athletic. But track was and still is her forte. In her eight seasons at TMHS, she had a combined 24 first places, either individually or as part of a relay team between the Merrimack Valley Conference/Eastern Mass Divisional Meets or All-State Meets. Yes, 24!
On top of that, she was part of eleven school records and broke numerous league and state records. She finished her career with 12 varsity letters, coming in four different sports, also an incredible achievement. She was a four-time All-Scholastic, an eight-time Lowell Sun All-Star, and a four-time Sun Athlete of the Year and also a three-sport captain, just between cross-country and track.
She also holds the distinction of scoring the most points, male or female, in the indoor and outdoor all-state high school track championship meets, out of anyone in the state's history.
"To put this in context, the All-State Meet is the superbowl of track-and-field," said TMHS coach Fran Cusick. "It is all of the best athletes from across the state, regardless of division, competing against each other. Unlike in team sports where you only compete against schools of a roughly equivalent size, with Rachel leading the way we were able to consistently compete against schools that were double or triple our size. At the All-State Meet, the most an athlete can compete in is three events, and typically for a distance runner, 'doubling' or doing two events in a day is a tall order."
Sessa collectively scored 67.5 points in all-state meets, including 18.5 in both her junior winter and spring seasons. That junior school year, she also placed second in the Emerging Elite mile race at the high school nationals. Had she been accepted to run in the "championship race," she would have placed fifth, garnering All-American status.
“Rachel is a very deserving choice for Athlete of the Decade,” said Cusick. “Since I’ve been coaching in Tewksbury, we have been incredibly lucky to have a revolving door of amazing athletes come through the track-and-field program. As an athlete, Rachel’s accomplishments are legendary."
Between outdoor track as a sophomore and a junior as well as indoor track as a junior, Sessa was part of three first places and six second place finishes.
“I want to emphasize two things about this stretch of dominance. One is that she did this in the most pressure packed circumstances imaginable. While track is often pigeonholed as an individual sport, there is a team component that our program takes a lot of pride in. We were consistently in the hunt for winning the All-State Meet, meaning Rachel thrived in conditions where she knew, if she did not have her best race, she would be hurting her team.
“We tied for the All-State Championship in 2016 where, if any one member of our 4x400 team had run a second slower we would have lost. In 2017, our 4x800 team won the All-State title out of the slow heat in a race that was decided by literally half a second. So we needed her to be the best in the state, over and over, and she almost never let us down.
"The second thing I want to emphasize is that Rachel was competing at a time when Massachusetts female distance running was at its absolute apex. It was utter insanity how many talented runners were competing. There were Division I scholarship runners that flew under the radar because of the depth of the talent state-wide (including girls who went to Stanford, Princeton, Cornell, Dartmouth, Boston College and with Sessa at Georgetown)."
THE CLIFF NOTE VERSION
Sessa's accomplishments and accolades in track-and-field are truly mesmerizing. We tried to break it down as easy and best as humanly possible.
She set three school records in the mile, two-mile and 3K and helped the team win MVC D2, MVC League Meet, D4 Relays and Eastern Mass D4 titles. She won the MVC title in the mile with meet record time of 5:10.68. She was named All-Conference in three events, mile, two-mile and 4x800 relay. She went on to win both the mile and two-mile at the D4 Meet.
Junior Year Indoor Track:
She was named the Lowell Sun's Athlete of the Year and was part of four individual or relay team championships, three school records and one meet record. The team finished as MVC D2 Champs, MVC Meet Champs and second place at the D4 meet.
Individually, at the MVC Meet, she was first in two-mile and 4x800. At the D4 Meet, she first in mile with meet record, second in two mile and second as part of 4x800 relay team. At the All-State meet, she was part of first place 4x400 relay team, finished second in both mile and two-mile and then finished it off by taking sixth at the New England Meet in the two-mile.
Senior Year Indoor:
As a senior captain, she was named the Sun's Athlete of the Year again. She finished off her third straight season of being undefeated in individual events through all MVC meets. The team MVP, Sessa was the Division 3 State champion in the mile and as part of the 4×800 relay team. She went on to place third in both the 1,000 and mile, and as part of the fourth place 4×800 relay team at the All-State Meet before taking third at the New Englands in the 1,000.
At that time, Sessa held school records in the mile and two-mile, the 1,000, 3,000 and 5,000 meters, and as well as part of both the 4×800 and distance medley relay teams.
Outdoor Track Sophomore Year:
Sessa helped lead the Redmen to MVC Division 2, MVC League Meet and All-State titles. She was the MVC, the EMass Division 3 and the All-State champion in the mile (4:53.94), before capping it off with a third-place finish in the New Englands 1,600 meters.
In addition, she was the MVC champion in the 800 (2:16.88) and was part of the 4×400 and 4×800 relay teams which both finished in second place at the All-States. She holds school records in both the mile and two-mile, and as part of both relay teams.
Outdoor Track Jr. Year:
Named the Sun's Athlete of the Year. At the MVC Championships she won both the 800 (2:16.08) and mile (5:06.13). At the D3 meet, she was first in the same two events and also part of the second-place 4×800 relay team. At the All-States she was second in the mile and 800 and then was part of the first-place 4×800 relay team.
At the New Englands, she was seventh in the 800, and at the New Balance Nationals in North Carolina she was first in her heat and fifth overall in the mile (4:51.26).
Again named the Sun's Athlete of the Year, despite battling a minor foot injury, Sessa was the MVC Champion in the 800 (2:19.81), finished third at the Division 3 State Meet and fourth in New England. She was also a part of the 4x800 relay team, which finished first at the Division 3 State Meet with a meet record time of 9:35.31.
Sessa was asked about her memories from competing with the Redmen indoor and outdoor track programs.
“I could talk all day about my high school memories,” she said with a laugh. “A lot comes out of those days and I just feel so lucky to be have gone through those programs. I was lucky to have gone through the programs at the right time with Coach Molloy, Coach (John) Byrnes and Cusick, who are just so awesome.
“Then when (Ron) Drouin became the athletic director and (Kristen) Vogel became the school's principal and all of the girls that we had on all of those teams. (My sister) Emily (Sessa), Lauren (Polimeno), Carina Berglund, Grace Canavan and Eva Barinelli were the ones who taught me about the sport, and helped me love it as much as I do. The underclassmen that we had, people like Lily Robinson, Devyn Veits, Meghan Ostertag, Makayla Paige, McKenzie Clark and Tatum Pecci, just helped all of us enjoy being together everyday as a team.
“I was able to surround myself with so many great people, not just on the teams but in life. The approach that they took everyday – I just can't understate the process enough. All of those things, just made us who we are today.”
NO SIBLING CROSS UP
Rachel Sessa had so many magical moments during her high school athletic career, but certainly when she paired up with her sister and they finished the MVC Cross-Country Championship Meet together as co-champions, was one of, if not the top one.
"We were playing soccer together and at that time, we wanted to make a decision on what was going to make us happy," said Rachel. "I had really enjoyed running track during my freshman and sophomore seasons, so ultimately, I wanted to go where my sister was going and she chose (cross-country). I just love being around her, and being with her made me happier than anything. I have so many memories with her. Emily was just such a huge motivating factor for changing sports. Everything I did, I wanted to do with her.
"Emily is basically the instructional manual when it comes to running. She is the one who puts it all together — she's the blueprints. I know there's sisters who maybe be closer than us, actually no there's not. She's just the coolest person I know and she thinks I'm the coolest person she knows. She just thinks the same as me, and we just love and push each other."
Today both girls are out of Mom and Dad's (Helen and Sage) house and in college, Emily at UMass-Lowell where she is having a terrific career and Rachel at Georgetown and just because the girls are off on their own, certainly doesn't mean they have forgotten who got them there.
"My parents set everything up for us and every opportunity we have had is because of them," said Rachel. "Whatever we wanted, they did for us and neither (Emily or myself) would be here without helping us make these million dollar decisions. Every meet we had, they were there and they were too supportive to a fault but not everyone can say that they have parents like we do. It means the world to me to have my mom and dad as my parents, it takes 'I've got you' to a different level. And I'm super proud of them as they are doing so well with all of us out of the house. They're just the best.
"And my older sister Nikki always supported us and we love her so much too."
STAYING WITH THE RED SHIRT
Sessa graduated from TMHS and traded in her red and blue colors of Tewksbury, for the blue jersey of Georgetown University, except her freshman year of cross-country, she was red-shirted.
"I'm definitely happy with my decision to come here," she said. "I certainly didn't go wrong with this choice. I'm finding my way and I have a super supportive group around me. I really like the direction of where the (cross-country) program is going and it's really cool to be a part of it. I got red-shirted my freshman year and I think that helped me a lot. It was a good learning system. I was not even a year out of high school and I was coming off some stuff so I think my body needed time and I couldn't contribute the way I wanted to."
After being red-shirted for cross-country, Sessa jumped right into the starting line-up with the track programs. In indoors, she finished with a season best 4:55.55 time in the mile to take seventh place at the Big East Championships and was part of the second place 4x800 relay team which earned all Big-East honors. She was also clocked at 2:14.26 in the 800 to earn second place honors at the Penn State National Meet.
That success carried over to her first cross-country season from this past fall. She finished 18th at the Penn State Invitationals, was 66th at the Georgetown Women's Gold race and then was 171st overall at the Wisconsin Invitational.
"Rachel is one of those dream kids, who just has so much potential and is just ready to be explosive with it," said coach Julie Culley. "She transitioned in and stepped right into the cross-country line-up this year and was anywhere from our fifth to seventh runner. She is one of the people who we are building the team around and she will continue to be in the forefront.
"At the Penn State Invitational, she really stepped up for the team, it's just a matter of getting more experience with cross-country. She's a super talented kid, who is starting to come into her own. I thought she had a huge breakthrough season here with cross-country."
Culley echoed a lot of the same words that Molloy and Cusick had said during Sessa's high school career.
"Rachel is such a team-oriented athlete," said Culley. "Immediately when she got here, she made wrist bands for the girls and posters and you don't see that from freshmen. She is just so much about the team and it's really incredible. I tell her that the things she does is awesome, but at the same time, she also needs to focus on herself. She is just so selfless and I'm not just saying that – sometimes I think she is too selfless and it takes away from herself."
When Molloy heard that Sessa was named the Town Crier's Female Athlete of the Decade, he said that is her biggest strength – involving everyone all of the time.
"Rachel’s greatest asset is that she makes everyone around her better," he said. "In doing so her presence elevates the expectations of the group, which in turn increased Rachel’s own personal expectations. From that perspective, I think it’s quite clear that our greatest team successes came, not just with her on our team, but as a massively important participant in those successes."