Old Rochester junior Corinne Robert believes that of the three running seasons, cross-country feels most like a family. Everyone is taking on the same distance challenge together, pushing each other to improve at the same event.
So when a pandemic wipes away an entire season, it takes time to rebuild that familial bond. The Bulldogs’ 6-0 start masks the ups and downs of returning after a two-year hiatus.
“I feel like we’re just so connected during cross country, and since we didn’t get that last year, I feel like it was weird going into the season because we weren’t super close with everybody,” Robert said. “But as the season is progressing, we have all been becoming more like a family.”
Old Rochester is a rare squad that missed out completely on cross-country in 2020-21. While some South Coast Conference schools ran in the modified Fall I season, most waited for Fall II, which presented a dilemma: either gear up for an altered “winter track” slate in early spring, or stick with cross-country. Old Rochester chose to skip the distance season.
This meant Robert and the team faced a daunting fresh start. Of the 16 runners for the girls’ side, only six are returning cross-country members, led by No. 1 runner Julia Sheridan. Others had only competed in track seasons and some had never run at all. For the first few weeks, coach Cindy Tilden had to start with the basics of conditioning.
“You had to find a way to get them to be able to run 3.1 miles without stopping in a meet,” she said. “I couldn’t push them to go too fast, too soon, because I wouldn’t have them right now.”
Robert’s freshman season was cut short after she tore her meniscus and underwent reconstructive surgery. Even though she has prior experience as a distance runner, she too is working back to form. Teammates have also battled injuries and shin splints, and a recent head cold has made its way around the roster in another attempt to derail consistency.
It makes the Bulldogs’ run all the more impressive. They’ve surged past conference opponents who did compete last season. The boys have wowed as well, sitting 5-1 with their lone loss coming against conference stalwart Seekonk.
On Tuesday, the girls beat Fairhaven, 19-43, despite Sheridan and Hanna Whalley taking a wrong turn on the 2.9-mile course. Robert came through and finished first (20:41) in the win.
“I was following them, and then my coach started yelling at me to go a certain way, so I just jumped over a big log and I just kept going,” Robert said.
Along the way, the upstart roster has emphasized team chemistry. They hold frequent pasta dinners at an upperclassman’s house before meets, and practice team-building icebreaker activities. Sheridan and senior co-captain Ally Ward have taken on the responsibility of reconnecting the program. For Ward, it’s a much harder job than she anticipated, but also much more rewarding.
“Even though being a captain is definitely more difficult than I thought it would be, I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” she said. “If anything, it makes me more grateful that I stuck with running all four years.”
Ward believes that, given the circumstances, the “wildly silly” group has vastly exceeded expectations.
“I think everyone was kind of expecting this year to be a massive rebuilding year . . . and then we just have these young girls who have come out and blown everyone away,” she said.
The Bulldogs have yet to compete in an invitational; they frequently run two dual meets per week, and Tilden doesn’t want to overwork her young runners. But with the SCC championship meet looming on Oct. 29, Old Rochester runners believe the arrow only points further upward for their success.
“Our team works really hard,” Robert said. “We have amazing people on our team that all are doing their best they can, and everybody’s just so motivated, and everybody is so optimistic about everything.”
Hitting the trails
▪ At last Saturday’s Manhattanville Cross-Country Invitational, St. John’s Prep turned in the best performance of any Massachusetts school on the boys’ side, taking the top spot in the varsity D race. The Eagles finished with 49 points, well ahead of second place Monroe-Woodbury, N.Y. (118 points). Junior Nathan Lopez and senior Charlie Tuttle took second and third place, respectively.
Lopez took off with the eventual winner, Marco Landon (Bridgewater-Raritan HS, N.J.), but soon backed off. Tuttle followed close behind, with a large gap between them and the fourth runner. Despite yet another high finish for the star duo, Prep coach John Boyle believes they have another gear to reach.
“They both raced pretty well,” Boyle said. “They could have run a little bit faster, and I think both of them would say the same, but we were looking for a team victory, and they helped us for sure.”
The North Andover boys finished third in the varsity D race. BC High, running in the varsity A race, was third.
▪ The Massachusetts State Track Coaches Association is running its 10th Bob McIntyre Twilight Invitationals this weekend at the Cape Cod Fairgrounds in Falmouth. The Small school races were held Friday night, and the Large schools will compete Saturday night, with a start time of 6 p.m. The varsity boys’ and girls’ races are scheduled for 8:35 and 9 p.m., respectively.
The event is expected to field just under 4,700 athletes between the two days, per MSTCA director James Fletcher. Several of the top teams on both the boys’ and girls’ sides are expected to attend, including: North Andover, St. John’s Prep, Lowell, Wellesley, Concord-Carlisle, and Marshfield.
▪ The 60th Catholic Memorial Invitational is scheduled for Saturday at Franklin Park. The girls’ freshman race goes off at 9:30 a.m., followed by the boys’ freshman race. The varsity girls’ race is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m., with the varsity boys’ at 10:30, followed by a second varsity boys’ race, if entries require it, at 11.
▪ A few teams clinched league titles this week. With its 23-32 win over Newton South, the Westford boys (6-0) clinched the Dual County League title. The Weymouth girls clinched the Bay State title with victories over Milton and Newton North in a tri-meet.
Meets to watch
Wednesday, Brookline at Newton North (boys), 4 p.m. — Two of the top teams in the Bay State Conference face off at Cold Springs Park in their last dual meets before the conference championship. Both teams are led by Globe All-Stars, with Tigers junior Tyler Tubman toeing the line against Warriors senior Alex Peterson.
Tuesday, St. John’s Prep at Xaverian, 4 p.m. — The Eagles look to cap an undefeated dual meet season headed into championship season, racing at Powisset Farm in Dover against a Xaverian team led by senior Globe All-Star Thomas Skerry and senior Daniel Jutras.
Wednesday, Andover vs. North Andover at Haverhill (girls), 3:30 p.m. — This tri-meet should be competitive at the front between standouts Molly Kiley (Andover), Leyla Kvaternick (North Andover) and Finleigh Simonds (Haverhill).
Wednesday, Hamilton-Wenham at Pentucket (girls), 3:30 p.m. — Two 4-0 teams square off in their final Cape Ann League dual meets of the season; Pentucket is ranked second in D2 in the MSTCA’s most recent Coaches’ Poll.
Wednesday, Brookline at Newton North (girls), 4 p.m. — Both Bay State Conference stalwarts sit 7-1 ahead of their final dual meet of the fall.
Correspondent Oliver Glass contributed to this story.