When it comes to running girls track in a Tewksbury High uniform, senior captains Jess Bridle and Sarah Hogan know only one thing -- winning. In their first three years on the TMHS roster, Bridle and Hogan have been huge contributors to a program that has won the Merrimack Valley Conference Division 2 championship every single year.
But as the pair of speedsters prepare for their fourth and final season on the TMHS track team, they will be asked to defend a string of eight straight MVC titles without the help of perhaps the strongest graduating class in coach Peter Molloy's eight-year tenure at TMHS.
When the graduation caps were tossed last June, some of the highest profile names in Tewksbury High track history were among the crowd. All-American middle distance runner Leanne Tucker, now at Villanova, was one of last year's seniors, as was all-purpose point scorer Ashley Toland (distance, middle distance, hurdles) who is running at the University of Rhode Island this year. Add speedster Ally Greene's name to that list (she's at UMass-Lowell for softball) and it's easy to see why Molloy has his concerns as the team prepares to kick off the 2011-2012 season Tuesday afternoon in Andover.
"We've had some great runners come through this program," Molloy said. "But this year we're a different team than usual. Most years, we're focused on finishing in the top three in the (Division 2) state meet and top three in the all-state meet. But this year we've got all our eggs in one basket. We're just focusing on winning the MVC Division 2 title."
Bridle and Hogan will be the two biggest keys in achieving that goal. Bridle, an MVC champion in both the 100 meters and the 400 meters last spring, figures to be one of the top performers in the MVC this winter. She has already displayed mid-season form in the team's preseason scrimmage last week, and Molloy has high hopes for Bridle this winter.
"She has a chance to be the league champion in both the (55-meter) dash and the 300 this year," Molloy said. "She's been working her butt off all summer. I wouldn't be surprised to see her break the school record in the 300. She's the most consistent kid I've ever come across. She handles every kind of pressure with ease."
Hogan, likewise, figures to do a lot of damage in the 50 and the 300, giving Tewksbury a tremendous one-two punch in the speed events.
"Sarah ran extremely well in the scrimmage (last Friday) too," Molloy said. "It's nice to have two of the best kids in the league -- and the state -- on your team."
Hogan and Bridle will also lead the 4x200 and 4x400 relay teams with senior captain Jackie Giasullo, juniors Arianna Smith and Rebecca Davies and sophomore Kelly Quigley filling the other relay spots.
Tewksbury should also be dominant in the shot put this winter, with seniors Lisetta Jacintho and Matilda Matovu coming back after MVC Top 10 performances last year. Junior Sydney Paolella also qualified for the state meet in the shot put last spring.
"Those three should put up a lot of points in the shot put," Molloy said. "We're counting on them to make up some lost ground in other events."
The other events that worry Molloy the most are the middle distance and distance events. Tewksbury lacks proven varsity performers in the 600, 1000, one mile and two mile events, especially with senior co-captain Christina Dick sidelined (perhaps for the entire season) with a stress fracture.
Giasullo, who is also one of the the team's captains, and Davies (who was an MVC all-star as the soccer team's goaltender) will be the featured runners in the 600 and 1000. A trio of sophomores; Olivia Boudreau, Rachel Eatherton and Courtney Graffeo, will run the mile, with help from freshmen Eva Barinelli and Caitlyn Leary.
In the two mile, four members of Molloy's girls cross country team, Amy DeFrancesco, Bridget Blair, Sam McGoldrick and Rachel McCabe will be counted on to produce points.
Quigely and fellow sophomore Ashley Callahan will be the featured performers in both the 55-meter hurdles and the high jump. Newcomer Jess Anede, a sophomore, will also compete in the high jump.
As usual, the team's overall numbers are strong, with 74 girls signed up to participate. But aside from Bridle, Hogan and the shot putting group, there are a lot fewer proven performers on the roster than in most years.
"We're gonna take our lumps in some areas," Molloy said. "We have to hope that the distance crew comes around a little bit and that the hurdlers come around. We're going to be in a dog fight in most of our meets."
The team opens its season in against two of the top teams in the MVC on Tuesday, facing Andover and Central Catholic in Andover.