As early as last spring, Tewksbury High boys cross country coach Peter Molloy suspected he had a group of distance runners on his hands who were capable of doing great things.
Brian Amaral ran a personal best 4:41.46 in the mile at the Merrimack Valley Conference championship meet last May. Kip Horahan ran a personal best 4:53.35 that day. Cory Thomas clocked a PR in the two-mile in 10:34.76. Brendan Blair and Tim Conklin also recorded late season PRs in the mile as well.
"We kind of started talking about it in the spring," Molloy said. "I started saying, 'If you guys do your work this summer, imagine what cross country could be like next fall.' And you could tell they were all about it."
The end result was a season full of milestones for Tewksbury, culminating late last week when the Redmen beat Billerica in a dual meet to record their first winning season (5-4) since 1993. That victory also secured Tewksbury's first Merrimack Valley Conference Division 2 championship since 2006.
"I think that (the success they had last spring) was what really motivated them to go out and run the miles they did this summer," Molloy said. "They really put in their work. And they really motivated each other, too.
"I think that was more important than anything," Molloy added. "We've had kids who've done the (off season) work before, but they never really connected as a team. These guys did it for each other as much as they did it for themselves."
Amaral led the way once again in the win over Billerica, covering a soggy 2.8-mile Livingston Street course in a personal best 15:03, 13 seconds better than his previous best time over the same course.
Tewksbury's next four runners followed suit, all posting PRs in spite of wet conditions. Thomas took second in 15:04 (15 second PR), Horahan took third in 15:26 (18 second PR), Blair took seventh in 15:39 (monster 31 second PR) and Sean Foley took eighth in 15:42 (nine second PR).
There was just a 39 second gap between Amaral's first place time and Foley's eighth place time.
"It was a tremendous performance when you consider that the (sloppy) course conditions probably cost them all at least 20 seconds," Molloy said.
Tewksbury moves on to the MVC Championship meet next Saturday morning at Chelmsford High, hoping to add a few more firsts to their list.
Having seen his team lose dual meets to Chelmsford, Methuen and Andover by a combined 12 points, Molloy is hopeful that the Redmen can surprise a few people and finish in the top three or four next weekend.
"The MVC's will provde us with a great opportunity to get some revenge," Molloy said. "I'd like to see our boys team beat all the teams we beat in the regular season, and at least one more."
After the MVC Championships it's on to the Division 3 state meet two weeks later, with the goal of finishing in the top four and qualifying for the all-state championships next month. But regardless of what happens from here on out, Molloy is already counting this season as one of the best ever in his eight years of coaching cross country at Tewksbury High.
"I've really enjoyed working with this group, and I don't say that just because of the wins," Molloy said. "I say it because they love to do the work. It's gratifying, as a teacher, to know that you've taught these kids the value of the things that you value as a coach."