No Track? No Field? No Problem

Tewksbury High girls track team has no facility, but still sees record turnout.

They have no place to call home. They train by running laps around the Tewksbury High parking lot, and all of their meets for at least the next two seasons will be on the road.

But that didn't stop over 20 percent of the female student population at TMHS from signing up for what should be another strong season for the Tewksbury High girls spring track program.

A total of 87 girls signed up for this year's team, which is the defending Merrimack Valley Conference Division 2 champion.  And even though a partially constructed new high school buidling sits on the site that once was the TMHS track stadium, head coach John Byrnes says he did next to nothing to promote the team or attract new athletes this spring.

"I talked to maybe one kid about coming out for the team," Byrnes said. "The kids take care of that stuff themselves. They work hard, they have success and they have fun. Then they go out and spread the word."

Success has come with great regularity to the TMHs girls track program, and last season was no exception. Among the team's top performers in the spring of 2010 was sophomore 400-meter specialist Jess Bridle, who returns for her junior season as the two-time defending MVC champion in that event.

"Jess is not the loudest kid on the team, so she sometimes flies under the radar," said Byrnes. "But on the track, she's fierce. She's one our hardest workers, and she never misses a practice."

Bridle also posted top 10 MVC times in the 100 and 200 meters last spring, and ran a leg on the MVC championship 4x400 meter relay team. Bridle ws also undefeated in dual meets in the long jump.

In addition to Bridle, junior discus thrower Lisetta Jacintho returns to defend her 2010 MVC discus championship, and senior Ashley Toland returns as one of the league's top performers in the 800 meters and the mile. Sarah Hogan, a junior, figures to be one of the league's top performers in the 100 meters after finishing fourth in the league in the 55-meter dash this winter. Senior captain Hannah Sedgwick should also score points in the 100.

Senior hurdler Lauren Andella is back after a strong indoor season. Andella also topped 31 feet in the triple jump last year. Senior Sarah Reynolds joins Jacintho in the shot put, providing Tewksbury with a strong one-two punch in that event.  Senior Nikki Smith is a threat in the 200 while Christina Dick and Emily Parker are the team's top returning distance runners.

In the javelin, senior Andrea Caprio is the league's top returning thrower, while Courtney Spinelli and Rebecca Clark also topped the 110-foot mark last spring.

Senior three-sport athlete Kim Fairweather is the team's top returning high jumper, while Devin Kelly and Amanda Cossar came on strong in the pole vault toward the end of the 2010 season. Middle distance runners Jackie Giasullo and Arianna Smith both emerged as runners to watch this winter.

But in spite of all the returning talent, there are many unanswered questions about this team.

The biggest  revolves around senior All-American 800-meter runner Leanne Tucker, who is headed to Villanova University this fall on a track scholarship. Tucker, who already ranks as one of the top runners in TMHS history, won the MIAA Division 2 state championship in the 800 as a junior last spring, and finished sixth at the New Balance Nationals last June in North Carolina. She also ran an the anchor leg on the New England championship 4x400-meter relay team.

But Tucker is recovering from a muscle tear that kept her sidelined for the entire winter season, and Byrnes is setting relatively low expectations for Tucker this spring.

"With regard to talent and ability, I haven't seen anybody in the state who I think is better," said Byrnes of Tucker. "But for Leanne it's more about having a healthy season than anything else. She wants to get her fitness up, run well and go on to college."

Likewise, the health of two other top performers will have a great impact on the team this spring. Senior sprinter Liz Marchand, the top returning 100-meter runner in the conference, suffered a severe broken leg playing soccer last October, and is still recovering. It is doubtful that Marchand will be ready to compete effectively at the varsity level before the end of the season.

Junior distance runner Laura Patriarca was the MVC cross country champion last fall, but a variety of health issues prevented Patriarca from participating in the winter indoor season this year.

Senior middle distance runner Heather Carroll could also have a major impact if she is fully recovered from the tendonitis that plagued her during the indoor season.

Byrnes will also have to replace a significant number of talented graduating seniors, including shot putter Brittany Pandolph, who set a school record in that event last year. Kyla Higgins, who was second in the league in the shot put last year, also graduated, as did Karie Judge, who was third in the league in the 400-meter hurdles and fifth in the 400-meter run last year.

"I'd say we're very much unproven this year," Byrnes said. "Of the 87 kids who came out for the team 40-45 have never done spring track before.

"We've got several top performers coming back from injury and we lost a lot of talent to graduation," he added. "We're defenitely a talented team, but a lot of our talent doesn't have much experience."

The goal, according to Byrnes, is to see steady improvement throughout the year.

"The big thing is patience," Byrnes said. "If we drop a meet early in the year there's no need to panic, because we'll definitely be a good team by the end of May."

Of course, Byrnes and his runners will have a few logistical issues to deal with, as well. Within a week or two, they will abandon the high school parking lot and adopt Lowell's Cawley Stadium as their traning grounds, sharing that facility with Lowell High. And with no home track, every one of their meets will be an away meet.

"There's some inconvenience to it," Byrnes admitted. "On your own home track you have a (training) program that you develop over the years, so this sort of throws a wrench into it. There's some new variables, but it's still coaching and the team dynamcis are still the same.

"But with the right group of kids, you could train in a telephone booth," Byrnes added. "And I htink we've got the right group of kids."





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