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Sofia LoVuolo knew she had a bit of natural distance-running skill when she joined the Marshfield girls’ cross-country team as a freshman two years ago. She knew she had some budding talent around her as well, both in her class and the down the pipeline.

What the two-time All-State qualifier did not realize, however, was how much the Rams needed the individual runners to mesh their collective talents in practices and on race days to reach their ultimate potential.

“It’s viewed as an individual sport,” the junior said. “But, honestly, I think it is one of the most team sports there is. In a race, when you are super tired, and the other runners around you are running by themselves, it seems easier when you can look to your teammates and work together.”

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Those is one of the lessons that Marshfield boys’ coach Dennis Sheppard has tried to bring to the girls’ team since taking the reins at the beginning of last season. After watching the girls go through new coaches in consecutive years, he said he offered to take on both teams if there were no candidates willing to work with the girls’ program long-term.

After a promising first year, he is hoping the Rams can make the leap this season as they eye their first trip to the All-State team meet since 2006.

“When I took over, it was a lot of young girls who showed a little bit of promise,” said Sheppard, the boys’ coach for 12 years. “It’s been a learning curve as they’ve learned to race and learned to do the type of work it takes. Every year, they are learning a little more.”

One of those big lessons came at last year’s Division 2 state meet. The Rams entered the day with high expectations, with several of the runners getting anxious and pushing the pace, only to have the team crash back to earth and fade late in the race.

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“We didn’t know how to race,” LoVuolo allowed. “We were too worried about where we were as individuals and tried to get ahead of the girls we were running near. This year we are working with our teammates and running more as a pack. It’s just keeping together and learning the team aspects of racing. We used to run as individuals. Now we are staying super close together and using each other to get faster.”

It’s part of racing that requires patience, determination and discipline, which is what senior Kaela Leary is learning as she makes her way back from missing last season with a stress fracture. She is hoping to pace herself to stay healthy and still earn a spot among the seven varsity runners in the postseason.

“It’s definitely tough on the team front holding back at times,” said Leary, who helped organize volunteer workouts this summer. “You want to push yourself to be up with your teammates as much as possible. But it’s not worth it if I overdo it in workouts and I am hurt again at the end.”

Marshfield is off to a great start.

Last Saturday, the Rams joined the boys’ squad as runaway team champions of the Frank Kelley Cross Country Invitational at the Wrentham Developmental Center. LoVuolo was fifth overall in the girls’ 5-kilometer championship division race in 19 minutes, 54.75 seconds, with sophomore teammate Olivia Langlan 18th in 20:35.05, junior Ruth Penny 20th in 20:44.34, and sophomore Charlotte Henning 26th in 20:57.53.

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“It was good,” said Sheppard, whose girls’ team outpaced second-place Triton by 31 points. “Some of the top 10 teams in the state weren’t there. But there was some good competition on both sides. We’re hoping some of our outlook changes after that weekend.”

LoVuolo admitted her outlook has changed quite a bit. What was once something new and exciting in which she excelled on natural ability has become part of a true group effort that she hopes will lead to an even more rewarding final chapter this fall.

“We have been trying to build to this,” she said. “When I was a freshman we had a lot of new girls on the line. Now we’re the leaders of the team. We knew our grade had some talent, and that the grades below us had talent, so that by the time we were juniors and seniors we were looking to be super strong.

“Last year, All-States was more of this hope,” she concluded. “This year, we look at it as a real possibility.”


Scott Souza can be reached at ScottSouza@journalist.com.