NHS Girls Track Team Enjoyed Record-setting Season

KEN HAMWEY, Staff Sports Writer
Issue Date: 
July, 2019
Article Body: 

The girls outdoor track team at Natick High had a spring season that was unique.
The squad, led by rookie head coach Mike Russo, bounced back after a 2-3 dual-meet campaign and became the first girls outdoor track team in Natick High history to win a Division 1 State meet.
“After going 2-3 in the Bay State Conference, we focused on the Division meet,’’ said Russo, a 2008 graduate of Natick High. “We knew we could score lots of points but it still was surprising because the school had never won a Division 1 meet. The girls had their prom on a Friday but came back on Saturday (May 25) very focused. Everyone did a great job, from freshmen to seniors. They were awesome, exceeding everyone’s expectations.’’
The Redhawks overpowered their opposition, taking first place by a 40-point margin. Natick finished with 109 points. Wellesley was second (69), followed by Brookline (54), Newton-North (43.5) and Andover (39).
A week later (June 1) at the All-State Meet at Westfield State University, Wellesley captured first, edging Natick, 38-35. The Raiders won the meet for the second straight year. The Redhawks’ premier distance runner, Grace Connolly, who will be running for Stanford in the fall, won the two-mile event in a time of 10:34.12.
“It would have been a thrill to win both meets but the girls should be so proud of winning the Division Meet and finishing second in the All States,’’ Russo said. “It’s a special group. During the last four years, from the seniors to the freshmen on the 2019 team, the girls have set nine school records.’’
The All-State meet ended with the 4x400 relay where Natick took second and Wellesley finished fifth. The Redhawks were trailing by seven entering that event but closed the gap and lost by three. If Wellesley had finished out of the top eight, Natick would have won the meet.
The girls who captured firsts in the Division meet at Norwell High were a trio of senior captains — Grace Connolly in the two-mile (10:44.63); Abigail Gerdes in the 100 (12.35); and Kassidy Gallagher in the discus (127-5). The 4x400-meter relay team (Nicole Frail, Kylie Langan, Ashley Warren and Bailey Elder) also earned first-place honors.
Others who placed were: Grace Connolly (2nd in the mile); Katherine Connolly (2nd in the two-mile); Gallagher (2nd in shot put and 4th in the javelin); Frail (3rd in the 400); Langan (4th in the 400); captain Sophia Gastaldo (4th in the pentathlon); Amanda McCauley (3rd in the pole vault); Gabbie Pagnini (5th in the discus); Trinity Vickers (7th in the 100 hurdles); Caroline Fleming (8th in the mile); and Genna Girard (8th in the two-mile).
The 4x100 relay team (Gerdes, Langan, Warren and Catie O’Neil) finished third and the 4x800 relay contingent (Katherine Connolly, Fleming, Emma Forde and captain Paige Edwards) was fourth.
For the meet, eight girls established personal bests.
“There’s a variety of attributes that made our team successful,’’ Russo said. “The girls are athletic, competitive, hard-working, and motivated. They also have a high track and field IQ. Everyone of the 90 girls on our roster kept working hard after regular-season losses and they improved every week.’’
Besides lauding the competitors, Russo also credits the Redhawks’ success to a group of six assistant coaches who work with the girls in every event. They include Ashley Davidson (distance), Than Bogan (pole vault, high jump), Tori Zamarra (sprints), Gary Coles (long jump, triple jump), Kate Leavey (javelin, discus) and Brian Moloney (shot put, discus).
“They’re a very dedicated group,’’ Russo said. “They devote time not only to the top end competitors, but also to the beginners who are new to track. Some of the assistants are on staff and some are volunteers.’’
The 28-year-old Russo, who teaches social studies at the high school, was a three-sport athlete at Natick. He competed in the 400-meter run in track, was a centerfielder in baseball and a wide receiver/defensive back in football. He was a BSC all-star in football and baseball.
Before taking the head-coaching reins, Russo was an assistant in track at Natick, working with both the boys and girls in the hurdles. In his first season as a varsity coach, he quickly adapted to that role. “I try to listen and be objective,’’ he said. “Another key is to be patient and know when to push the girls and when to pull back.’’
Russo took the outdoor coaching reins from Matt Strother, who guided the Redhawks for eight seasons. Strother is still coaching the indoor team and last winter his girls squad took second place in both the Division and State meets.
“Matt has built championship teams,’’ said Russo who majored in education at Endicott College. “He did a great job and we just tried to build on his teams’ successes.
And, build they did. The 2019 girls outdoor squad provided Natick High with a dynamic achievement. They entered the NHS record book as the school’s first Division 1 champ. And, they were gallant in their effort to make it two straight at the All-State Meet.
“What I admired most about the girls was their work ethic, their selflessness and their willingness to sacrifice,’’ Russo emphasized. “We had girls who gave up competing in individual events and turned to the relays. And, we had girls who competed in two and three events. They had a team-first mentality.’’
And, they were a breed apart.