AYER – Green is the new gold, at least that’s the case for the Ayer Shirley Regional girls’ indoor track and field team. The Panthers are very young in class rank, but that’s not holding them back, as nearing the midway point in the season Ayer Shirley is a perfect 2-0 (2-0 Mid Wach D).
With COVID-19 making its way through the school, the Panthers are prevailing, not just overcoming the challenges with the pandemic, but making vast improvements in a very short period of time.
“I’m super happy with how everyone’s progressing,” Ayer Shirley Regional head coach Mike Seguin said. “We have super young kids on the team, middle schoolers, freshmen and sophomores, basically, and they’re learning so much. I’m impressed with how far they’ve come in such a short period of time.”
Numbers are improving and for Seguin a lot of the team success is credited with taking an athletes’ first approach, where the focus is learning to love the sport of track and field, which snowballs into team growth and success on the oval.
“The last few years we’ve worked hard with the middle school kids, and they’ve had such a positive experience that they’ve recruited some of their friends,” Seguin said. “Which is what you want, and how you want to build a program, that kids are coming and enjoying what they’re doing, and hopefully the byproduct of that is success in the wins and loss column. But ultimately I think that we pride ourselves more on is that the kids are enjoying themselves, and having a positive experience.”
Seguin says that with the climate of the pandemic sweeping through, it has presented an opportunity for the younger athletes to gain experience in new events. And in some cases it resulted in finding their new focus in the sport. The workouts are crafted to give the team some variety and a chance to explore new races and events.
Because of this approach, Ayer Shirley has four hurdlers, the most it has had in a number of years. The team also found five quality high jumpers, which should provide a boost in the field event heavy outdoor season.
Ijeoma Ezechukwu is emerging as a bona fide star for the Panthers, as she holds the team’s best 55-meter dash time at 7.62 seconds, and best 300m dash at 43.6. She was part of the 4x100 relay last year that finished eighth in the state, and will likely be competing on the team’s 4x200 relay at the end of the season.
“(Ezechukwu) came to us last year and was new to track and field,” Seguin said. “She’s absolutely loving it, has an incredible work ethic, and is blazing fast. She’s one of the fastest girls in Central Mass.”
Annika Preston boasts a team best in the 600m run this season at 1:48.76. Preston is driven to say the least, with a willingness to do whatever challenge it takes, to get the improvement she is looking for.
“She will do literally any workout you tell her to do,” Seguin said. “Even if she hates it, struggles through it, or it’s super tough, she’ll do it and get it done. She’s just another one who has a great work ethic, and she can see the progress, and see herself getting better.”
Newcomer and team points' leader (19.25) Grace Flanagan has the top high jump performance of the year (4 feet 6 inches), and also ran a 2:16.9, 600m, and high hurdles 11 seconds even. Her versatility is proving to be a real asset for the team.
“(Flanagan) is our points' leader because we can put her anywhere,” Seguin said. “She’s only an eighth grader, and wherever we put her, she does really well. She’s a great Swiss Army Knife to have, and this is her first year doing track, so a lot of this is all new to her.”
Middle school runner Carolyn Mason posted a 3:41.07 which is the team’s best 1,000m run time to date. Mason improved significantly throughout the course of the cross country season, moving from a low scorer to top three on the team. She’s also found success in the mile and 2 mile.
Isabelle Cote (top 2 mile at 14:54.3) and Gwen Connors (top miler at 6:51.0) provide strength, depth, versatility and leadership in the distances. The sprinting events are depth heavy with Jordan Kosakowski (46.31, 300m), Devin Delyani (team’s top 55m hurdles time at 10.19), and Kyrie Wick.
Liliana Kaeppel (team best 22-3) and Isabella Russell have been the top performers in the shot put.