NORTHFIELD – From disappointment to elation. The Ayer Shirley Regional High School girls’ cross country team crossed the finish line at Northfield Mountain in eighth place just one spot shy of an automatic bid to the state championship. Spirits changed pretty quickly though when the Panthers realized that their time was good enough for the wildcard bid to state’s, marking a return trip for the Maroon and White.
The Panthers advance to the Division 3 state championship, which will take place in their backyard at Devens.
Bromfield won the Division 3C title Saturday with 49 points, followed by Lenox Memorial (101 points) and Mount Greylock (130 points). Mohawk Trail secured the last automatic qualifying spot in seventh place with 215 points, and the Panthers finished in 8th place with 248 points. Ayer Shirley’s cumulative time of 1:57.09.91 was good enough for the Panthers to snag the wildcard.
“The kids were absolutely ecstatic,” Ayer Shirley Regional girls’ cross country head coach Mike Seguin said. “We were the last race to run that day, so we had a pretty good idea of what the other teams had run. So when we came through and we saw the time, we had a pretty good idea that we’d made it as a team. They were pretty pumped, after being disappointed.”
The top performance for the Panthers was turned in by Carolyn Mason, who posted a 21 minute 59.75 second time on the 5K mountainous course. Mason’s performance was good enough to secure 23rd overall.
“It was an outstanding performance by Carolyn Mason,” Seguin said. “It was one of the fastest times. This was Northfield Mountain, which the course is up a mountain for the first mile or so.”
When the big meets happen, usually leadership tends to show up. However the key to the victory for Ayer Shirley might not have come from the top of the ranks, but from the 5-spot with senior captain Marissa Grace.
Grace lost both shoes on a mud pit early in the run, and had to finish the majority of the race barefoot. Despite having bruised and beaten feet, without her efforts, Ayer Shirley probably wouldn’t have advanced to the state championship.
“Marissa Grace, our captain, lost both of her shoes on the first half mile of the course,” Seguin said. “She had to run barefoot, for 3 miles, up a mountain, in the freezing cold. She still ran a great time, and because of that decision to run (and not stop), that’s what got us into state’s. It was a very captain move of her, and that will go down in lore, and talked about in cross country for a long time.”
Ada Perwak was the second to cross the finish line, boasting a 51st place showing 23:16.43.
Jane Marshall came storming home across the finish line next for the Panthers, boasting a 23:51.94 and taking 64th place.
“(Marshall) has been in our top three all season long,” Seguin said. “I don’t think she’s fallen past that.
Devon Perwak wasn’t too far behind, just two seconds off, with a 23:53.71 and 67th place showing.
“It was probably a breakout run for Devon Perwak,” Seguin said. “She’s been our No. 6 most of the season. And she really turned it on for that meet, stepping up, because we had a few mishaps. She saw (Grace) go down, and knew she had to step up and put a good run in. The girl who’s normally our number 5, Lillian Abelson (25:40.97), also fell down and cut her knees. It was a great move by Devon (Perwak) to move up to that 4-spot, and hold it down.”
Caitlin Schrock served as the first displacer, finishing in 90th place with a 25:21.04.
The Division 3 state championship will be the final event of the season on Saturday, and making it helped the Panthers to achieve one of the big goals they set for themselves before the season started.
“It’s one of our goals to make it to state’s,” Seguin said. “And to see it come to fruition is always great to see. It’s good for the goals, shows their work ethic, and what they’ve put in this year. It’s a course they knew, and they’re looking to improve upon our performance from last year.”