CHELMSFORD — Before the season started, Tewksbury Memorial High School boys' cross-country coach Peter Fortunato said he had two goals: he wanted to keep his student-athletes healthy, and he also wanted the members of the team to have fun.
The two goals were inline to happen until last Tuesday's final meet of the season.
“The new COVID-19 protocols were put in place this past Friday. For cross-country that means running with a mask on the entire race. As difficult as that is, my guys followed those rules for the majority of the race and I could not be prouder of them.
“However, I cannot say the same for the host team. Where their course is a double loop, with the second loop running in reverse direction, the competitors run towards each other during the race. For the other team to be running maskless for the majority of the race, it was not only unsportsmanlike, but it was also irresponsible and put my team at risk. As my team watched maskless racers run towards them they ran angry but did not let their emotions get the best of them.”
Chelmsford came away with a convincing victory at 15-48, which ended the season for the Redmen with a 2-5 record. Despite the controversy with the masks and facing a much more experienced team, Fortunato said his runners did quite well.
“Senior Zach Connolly who is as consistent as they come, was our top guy again,” said Fortunato. “Zach has pieced together a great season as our number one runner all year. Senior Cam Gondola has been back on the rise since his ankle injury. He has run very aggressively trying to stay with Zach.
“Our two stud sophomores Nick Alvarado and Tristan Leslie ran together, pushing each other for most of the race. The two of them are going to be tough to beat in the future if they continue to push each other in the off season.
“Our fifth guy was senior Josh Linnehan. Josh has been a great leader for our group and came through once again, leading the way for Alek Cranston and Kyle Adams. Senior Danny Lightfoot came in as our eighth runner, just behind the pack of Josh, Alek, and Kyle. Rounding out the next pack was Tyler Feingold, senior Justin Flynn, and Alex Naghibi. Our final runner in, who continues to improve each week was Cian Dawson. As the team yelled and screamed for him, Cian out kicked a Chelmsford runner and beat him to the finish line.”
Connolly was sixth overall at 17:45.3, followed by Gondola (11th, 18:24.7), Alvarado (12th, 18:49.4), Leslie (13th, 18:53.7), Linnehan (15th, 19:25.6), Cranston (16th, 19:34.6), Adams (17th, 19:36.3), Lightfoot (19th, 19:55.5), Feingold (29th, 21:09.8), Flynn (30th, 21:15.9), Naghibi (32nd, 21:21.0) and Dawson (39th, 25:26.8).
Throughout the season, the Redmen had a handful of runners go through some minor injuries which kept them out of some meets, but overall they all improved and for the most part, had fun.
“This season was unlike any others,” Fortunato said. “I am proud of my team for making the best out of it, and competing in less than desirable circumstances. I think we can all agree that it was nice to at least have a season because it gave us a small sense of normalcy in our day."
The meet and the season also means the end for five seniors on the team, Connolly, Gondola, Linnehan, Flynn and Lightfoot.
“Zach is a four year guy that has been in the varsity mix for the past two to three years. He was our number one guy all year and hands down our MVP. He has a passion for running and will hopefully continue running in college.
“Cam is also a four-year guy for us and before that he started running when he was in middle school for Greater Lowell Road Runners. He has had a few ankle injuries that have held him back but will be a strong middle distance runner this track season. Cam is looking into joining the military after high school.
“Josh is a three-year guy that really excels in the middle distance races. He has been a great leader for some of the younger guys this season. He really led the second pack and helped develop a few of the sophomores.
“Justin is another four-year guy who has battled through a lot of injuries. In track-and-field, he really excels in pole vault and shows sincere love for the event. I am hoping that he has a spring track season so he can show off his off season improvements.
“And Danny is a first season runner and a tough kid. He was a pleasure to have on the team and I am really happy he joined the team. He is a phenomenal wrestler and I hope he gets the chance to show off his talents in that sport at some point this year.”