Although none of her student-athletes will say it outright or outwardly show it, 12th-year Shepherd Hill Regional girls’ cross-country coach Nicole Fossas knows her hungry harriers are disappointed that they will not have the opportunity to capture a fourth straight Central Mass. Division 1 Championship this fall because of COVID-19.
While there are no invitationals or postseason to look forward to, Fossas said she’s proud of her deep and talented senior-laden squad for maintaining their passion, poise and positive attitude.
Fossas admitted she’s heartbroken for her kids.
“I had to let it go,” said Fossas, who’s guided the Rams to five Central Mass. titles since 2013. “There’s nothing I can do about it. I have nine seniors this year and this is a heavy loss for them. The great thing for me is that they’re so happy to be together again. They were so happy to get a season, anything, but I know they’re disappointed.
“They don’t complain. They put it in perspective. We’re healthy. We get to be together everyday and that’s what’s important.”
Added second-year captain Kaitlyn Stevens: “I think, as a senior, it’s definitely disappointing to not be able to compete at a state meet. I think, overall, our team is happy to have some sort of meet. My team is really close-knit. It makes practices really fun.
“(COVID-19) made me appreciate running more. That was something I was able to do. I definitely think it (isolating) was challenging. We went from seeing our friends and teammates and coach six, seven days a week and it was cut down to none at all. It was an adjustment for all of us.”
Fossas said she always tells her younger runners to leave the program better than they found it. The Class of 2021 has far and away exceeded expectations.
Shepherd Hill’s seniors include, captains Audrey Carragher, Christina Gunsalus and Eliza Quinn, and classmates Alyssa Clemence, Helena Duke, Mikaela Gosselin, Samantha Zannotti, and newcomer Lizzy Gunsalus, who is a two-time cyclocross national champ.
“They are amazing,” Fossas said. “They are hard workers. They’re talented, but they get the importance of leading by example. They’ve built on the culture that they inherited and they made it better. They get their work in no matter what.
“This class, I can’t stress enough how truly amazing they are. They took the torch from the older girls, the girls who graduated, and they continued that tradition and work ethic and culture.”
Shepherd Hill (2-0) — a perennial Mid-Wach A power — is in a geographical pod this season with Bay Path, Leicester, North Brookfield, Quaboag, David Prouty, and Tantasqua due to the pandemic’s stringent travel restrictions.
Interestingly, the Rams once resided in the SWCL, and are mostly competing against former foes with the exception of the Minutemen and Indians.
“I think it’s definitely disappointing not to be able to go against the teams we usually do, but I think our team is just thankful that we’re able to compete against any school,” Stevens said.
The future is bright with junior Anna Thomas, who Fossas said will have a leadership role next year, as well as sophomore standouts Emery Mullen and Grace Bateman.
Mullen, who was a T&G Super Team All-Star selection last season, finished second at the D1 Central Mass. championships at Gardner Municipal Golf Course in 19:59, just four second behind former teammate Emma Sullivan, who was the the 2019 Hometeam Runner of the Year and now attends Jacksonville University.
“Tremendous work ethic, tremendous person,” Fossas said of Mullen. “Grace has a tremendous work ethic and is amazing. She does everything you ask. She’s one of those leaders who’s going to step up next year.”
The 17-year-old Stevens, meanwhile, plans to run cross-country, indoor, and outdoor track in college.
Last November, Stevens was ninth (21:12) at the CMass championships. Her personal best in a 5K is 19:56.
“My biggest goal for this season is to get as close to 19:30 as possible,” Stevens said.
Contact Steve Farley at [email protected]
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