By Jim Sullivan
---- — For the past couple of years, the Newburyport boys cross-country team has become known as the powerhouse in the area, racking up two undefeated regular seasons and two Eastern Mass. Division 5 championships along the way.
Now, the Clipper girls are giving them a run for their money.
“Programs, I think, are measured on their consistency,” says Newburyport boys and girls cross-country coach Don Hennigar. “Not that you’re going to get there every single year. But the teams that seem to do very well, consistently, seem to show up at All-States every year. And I think that’s the reason why, because they have that consistency in their program. It builds the tradition.”
For the past 18 years, the Clippers have had a tremendous tradition with either a Clipper boys or girls team advancing to the All-State Meet. Both teams will compete at the All-State Meet tomorrow at Northfield Recreation Center.
The girls dominated the region in the 1990s, winning three state championships and losing just one meet along the way. They last peaked back in 2005, then went through a lull and started to rebuild during the past three years. But, being that this is Newburyport cross-country, they’ve had to do it in the shadow of their male counterparts.
“They’re just this big personality,” junior Rose Hart says of the boys. “And everyone knows them as being winners and just kind of being weird and whatever. But we’re making a name for ourselves, I think. Everyone on (our) team is very smart and very funny and just the nicest girls you could ever meet.”
Last year, those nice girls placed fifth in Division 5. But this year, they finished third. Their top seven runners, senior captain Liz Fiascone; juniors Hart, Kelly Conway and Erin Carroll; and sophomores Lily Eagan, Kristen Mackie and Rachael Haley are headed to the state finals as well.
“It’s exciting,” says Fiascone. “Whatever we seem to do the last couple of years, the boys would one-up us. We’d be starting to have a successful season, and they’d go and win states. But I think it’s really exciting that we’re getting some attention. We’ve been working really hard and quietly putting in our work behind them. And I’m really excited that it’s starting to pay off.”
A contrast to the more extroverted boys team, these Clippers are known for their quiet manner and tough work ethic.
“They’re quiet, but they do have fun,” Hennigar says. “They just do it in a quiet way. They’re extremely competitive, and I think that’s the big thing. They’re a competitive group.”
Sibling rivalry is also playing a part in this year’s success as Conway has not only had to come out from under the boys team’s shadow, but also from out of the shadow of older brother and former boys captain, Keith.
“I feel some sort of shadow,” admits Conway. “But I think, with the success we’ve had this year, I’m pulling out of the shadow a little bit. So we have to keep that up.”
Many of the girls on this young team have attained personal bests of late and are looking to continue improving.
“It just shows the work that we did all season,” says Hart. “With all the (personal records) we’ve had and all the improvements, it just shows how hard we’ve been working.”
Even though their cross-country careers are coming to an end soon, both Fiascone and fellow senior Sarah Jacqz feel that they will be leaving the program in consistent hands.
“I know the coming out of the shadows thing is going on this year,” admits Jacqz. “But I think it will only continue more next year because we’re such a young team. We have so any sophomores and so many juniors who are already strong. And they’ve been getting better every year. Come next year, I think this team will be incredible. Then they’ll be right up there with the guys. And they’ll be getting just as much recognition because they definitely deserve it.”