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Boys’ Track: Ayer Shirley Benefiting from Driven Young Athletes

AYER – Younger and lesser experienced athletes getting better is a crucial ingredient to team success, and luckily for the Ayer Shirley Regional boys’ indoor track and field team, there is no shortage of younger athletes making great strides. 

Veteran role models are also bountiful in the Maroon and White’s ranks, but this year’s group of younger athletes taking the next step seems extra special, for a program that has a long history of high accolades. 

“We’ve got a bunch who are improving a lot,” Ayer Shirley Regional boys’ indoor track and field head coach Chris Donovan said. “It’s exciting. The goal of our program is consistency, we don’t want to have any down years at the bottom of the league, we always want to be at that high level. Sometimes for the younger kids it’s tough that they might not think they’re an important piece, because they’re not scoring in the moment or they might not be getting the attention the upperclassmen are getting.”

“The underclassmen have to make the choice to commit, because if they don’t nobody is going to drag them back,” Donovan continued. “And I’ve been really impressed with the group who’s been able to (make that commitment everyday) so far.”

Donovan says that upperclassmen leadership has helped shape the culture, but there is plenty of initiative from the younger athletes on the team. Just this past weekend, with an early team meeting, every single athlete on the team made it before the meeting started, all were in attendance, and fully committed to the day. 

“(Full commitment) can be really difficult,” Donovan said. “A lot of times after a late night meet, the next day’s practice can be like a ghost town, but I haven’t dealt with that at all. It’s showing. When you don’t skip days, you’re going to get better.”

Kayden Srey-phan is one of those younger athletes buying into the program, and seeing the fruits of his hard work come to fruition. Srey-phan posted a personal best in the 55-meter dash at a 7.2 second time at the freshman/sophomore meet, taking off four-tenths of a second from his best time from last year. 

“In a 55m that’s an insane amount of speed he’s gained in just a calendar year,” Donovan said. “I’ve got him on my A 4x200m relay team, and you can’t run four seniors in every relay because we’re a small school, and someone’s got to rise to the occasion. And they ran a state qualifying 1:35 a couple weeks ago, and that’ll be in the mix at state’s. He’s holding his own as a sophomore.”

Freshman Jack Holden ran in the 11:20s for the first time this year in the 2-mile, despite losing a shoe with a mile to go in the race. Holden has shown noteworthy improvement, shaving about 25 seconds off his bests from last season. Event-mate Nate Baptista is showing a similar level of improvement, starting the year in the 12’s and now is situated around the 11:40s, which should come down more with a trip to the Reggie Lewis Center on the horizon. 

Lukas Biddle and Mathias Paillard have both dropped from the 10-second range in the 55m hurdles, and are now situated in the 9-second range. With their improvement, they will now ascend to a hurdle relay, which could be a source of points in Friday’s state relay meet. 

Paillard has raw athletic ability, and has been dabbling in a number of events. He even picked up a shot put and hucked it an impressive 32 feet with no experience. Paillard cleared opening height in his first high jump attempt, and a pentathlon could very well be in the cards in the future. 

“I’m seeing confidence out of (Biddle and Paillard) that I didn’t see last year,” Donovan said. “I thought last year it was show up, run your race and go home, but now it’s like when you see your times drop, practice is focused on how to get that time down even more.”

Noah Carvelli is the team’s 1,000m runner, and despite being a freshman, is taking a leadership role in the event, posting a 2:57 recently at Reggie. Carvelli is looking to place in the league championship, but 2:53 is the cut-off for the state qualifier, which isn’t far away. 

“If you’re hitting state-qualifying times as a freshman,” Donovan said. “That’s a really good check point to be at. He’s one of the hardest working kids that we have.”

Jake Pitsios and Evan Cornier are younger throwers helping to build up strength in the shot put. Donovan says the shot put duo has the right mentality, focussing on personal improvement in the event, and working hard every day to keep getting better. 

Ryan Gill is a junior pole vaulter, and has taken the initiative to shift his training in favor of the pole vault, including explosive lifts, and sprint training, which is outside of his wheelhouse, but needed to improve upon his signature event. The move is focused most on success for his team. 

A.J. Arakelian will be participating in two events at the relays in which he doesn’t train for, but there was a team need. Donovan says the team-first mentality by many of the athletes is going to pay big dividends come championship season. 

“I’ve had teams in the past where it’s been a struggle to articulate to them why you are doing something or what the plan is,” Donovan said. “This team is like the opposite, where I have every kid locked in. I think it does start with those senior captains, where their level of focus is unlike anything I’ve seen, and the younger kids are excited and desperate to be a part of this, which is really cool.”

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