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Panther Boys’ Track Battling COVID-19 to Perfection

AYER – Overcoming adversity is an important lesson to learn in sports and life, and similar to what all teams and schools seem to be going through, COVID-19 is running rampant through the track community. But for the Ayer Shirley Regional boys’ indoor track and field team, the Panthers are finding a way to battle through it, with the next man up mentality, which is paying dividends, as the team currently sits at a perfect 2-0 on the season (2-0 Mid Wach D), nearing the midpoint of the winter. “With everything going on, I’m really proud of the kids coming to practice every day and competing,” Ayer Shirley Regional head coach Chris Donovan said. “This is still really difficult with everything going on with COVID. They’re wearing masks at practice because they know they have to wear them at the meet. Almost every day there are kids out, missing, coming back, and no one’s complaining. That type of stuff to me is almost as significant as winning, they’re just handling everything with such maturity.” Sophomore Mavrik Dostie is leading the distance crew, with a team-best time in the 2-mile run at 12 minutes 19.50 seconds, and a team-best in the 600-meter run at 1:42.10. Dostie is more inclined to run the mid-distances but showed a willingness to do the longer distances to help his team score additional points. Matt Gill provides some quality depth behind Dostie, running both the 2 mile and mile, doubling up in most meets. The deepest area is the mid-distance and sprint crews. Patrick Bergin is part of that bountiful grouping and holds the team’s best mark in the 1,000 (2:44.26) and the mile (5:21.50). Bergin has a state meet qualifying time in the 1,000. The Panthers’ 4x200-meter relay is gaining a lot of headlines, posting a 1:39.87 on Saturday, which should cement a spot in Division 5 states. Ryan Wade, Nate Adonis, Danae Arnold, and Jacob Kalgren compose the relay. Wade is the lone senior in the potent quartet. Kalgren is one of the best in the state in the 55-meter hurdles, boasting an impressive 8.1 second time in a dual meet victory against Clinton, and an 8.42 on electronic timing at the Northeast Invitational. “He ran an 8.4 (Saturday) which tied our school record down to the 100ths,” Donovan said. “Which is pretty crazy, electronically timed, running an 8.42, which is exactly what the school record had been, and he took ninth at the Northeast Invitational. (Kalgren and Bergin) should both medal at the Division 5 state meet, and they’re already talking about the potential of going to an all-state meet.” Kalgren also has the team’s best distance in the shot put at 36-03.25, has cleared 5 feet in the high jump, and has the team’s best 300-meter dash time at 40.90. Both he and Bergin are tied atop the team’s point-scoring leaderboard at 25.0 points. “(Kalgren) is the most talented on the team, for sure,” Donovan said. “I named him a captain as a junior, (and our captains) have just done an awesome job, because like I’ve said, we’ve had kids out, kids coming back, and we’ve had days where there’s one coach there because of COVID or other stuff going on. The captains’ leadership has been helpful.” Arnold boasts the team’s best 55-meter dash time to this point in the season at 7.19, and Stetson Daisy has the best high jump clearance at 5-06. Daisy is third on the team in points with 15.0. “I have very few seniors on this team, and we’re getting better every week,” Donovan said. “We’ve had kids that can’t come to school or practice, but aren’t symptomatic, and a lot of these kids have been doing the training on their own at home. It just speaks to a real solid level of maturity with this team, which just makes such a difference in a difficult season.” This week is a bye week for the Panthers, but there is the potential for a makeup meet for a meet wiped out due to COVID last week. On Saturday, the Panthers will be back in action, as they head to Boston for the Division 5 relay meet. “We’ll have some competitive teams on Saturday, but I don’t think we’ll fill every event,” Donovan said. “The sprint medley and the 4-by-2 we’re going to put our best kids in, and see if we can make a little noise there.” Another bright spot this season is the mentorship between the high school veterans and dedicated young middle school athletes. Donovan says this phenomenon, which has been an effective system for years in the program, is helping to form the next generation of stars in the program. “To me, that’s how we’ve had all the success over the years,” Donovan said. “These kids start at a young age and learn how to do it the right way, and if they hang with it, they’re going to be our point scorers. The middle schoolers don’t get a lot of the recognition early on, but I think we’ve got a good crop of them going forward.” Donovan says the team that can make it to the finish line this year and stay healthy could very well emerge as the league champions. He said the team hit its rough spot the last couple of weeks with COVID-19, but says emerging undefeated at this point, and getting past it, could bode well as the rest of the season plays out. “If we can keep working and stay healthy, I think we have as good a shot as anyone to take the league title,” Donovan said. “Which is awesome, because honestly, we’re lucky to even be competing right now. So to be able to make a little bit of noise would be great.”

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