DEVENS – The Ayer Shirley Regional girls’ cross country team snagged the wildcard last bid to state’s in the state qualifier, and competing in the Division 3 championship was not only a landmark achievement, but something the Panthers can build upon into the future with the majority of the team returning next year.
The Maroon and White performed up to expectations, securing 22nd place overall with 448 points. The Bromfield School won the meet with 125 points, and league foe Gardner High School took home 12th place with 313 points.
Twenty-two teams competed in the Division 3 State Championship meet with 179 individuals taking to the course in Devens.
“We were pleased,” Ayer Shirley girls head coach Mike Seguin said. “Our goal was to make it to state’s and we got there. I don’t think anybody underperformed, I thought everyone ran really well, and ran strong. I felt that everybody ran one of their best times of the season, if it wasn’t their best, then it was among the top two of the season.”
Carolyn Mason led the way for the Panthers finishing 77th with a 22 minute 12.42 second time on the flat 5K course.
Ada Perwak cracked the top 100 taking home a quality 98th place and posting a 22:31.40.
The next two Ayer Shirley runners ran together in a tight pack, as Jane Marshall secured 124th (23:15.93) and then two spots later, senior leader Marissa Grace closed out her cross country career in style with a 23:16.61.
“I got to see (Grace) take the girls into the huddle before the race and give them words of encouragement,” Seguin said. “It’s always good when the senior in her last race is able to lead the team out. And she ran super hard, and it was one of her best races.”
Devon Perwak closed out the scoring, securing 156th place and an impressive 24:33.03. Devon Perwak is just an eighth grader in class rank, with a bright future ahead of her.
It was a relatively close pack with the displacers as well, as Lillian Abelson took home 162nd 24:45.45 and then shortly after in 166th, Caitlin Schrock closed out the team performance (24:54.20).
“These girls ran hard in practice all year,” Seguin said. “And literally will do any work out that we give them… If I told them to go run 50 miles, they would go do it. They trust us to get them to where they need to be.”
The goal of the cross country season is to have peak performances at the end of the season, and the Panthers didn’t disappoint, saving their best performance for their last race of the season.
“They peaked,” Seguin said. “Watching them run, everybody was giving it their all. Everyone was doing their best, and their times showed it.”
With a young team, the opportunity to compete at state’s was valuable experience that should carry over to future years. It already has to a large degree, as the Panthers competed at state’s last year as an even younger team and made significant strides from last year’s performance into this year.
“We’re still young and building,” Seguin said. “We made it as a team last year, and we were even younger, mostly freshmen, so we’re still a very young team that’s gaining all of this experience. Last year as a team I don’t think we performed very well. If I think back upon it, it wasn’t a great performance, whether the stage was big or they were nervous. Now this year they’ve already gone through it once, so they weren’t as nervous, and the stage wasn’t too big for them this time.”
The girls team responded after falling a little short of goals at the league championship, rebounding at the state qualifier and then lifting the bar at the state championship.
“We started pushing them harder and they really started responding better (after league’s),” Seguin said. “We have to remember that these girls are tough, and they can do the hard work. They did, and the last two meets really showed that.”