BOYLSTON - The youthful Tahanto Regional High School girls cross country team swept to victory in its season and home opener on Tuesday, prevailing 25-34 over Narragansett Regional.
Narragansett’s Kylie Marlon and Callie Wiedle took the first two spots on the scenic Tahanto course that travels through the woods adjacent to the school and the Wachusett Reservoir, but then a wave of Tahanto finishers carried the Stags to victory.
Seventh-grader Edith Abelson was the top finisher for Tahanto and third overall. Behind her in order were eighth-grader Chloe Cogswell, eighth-grader Lauren Stoffel, seventh-grader Analise Langelier and sixth-grader Jasmin Bella.
Also competing for the Stags were senior Maureen Flanagan, seventh-grader Samantha Railsback and junior Eve LeBlanc.
Patrick Minihan returns as Tahanto’s coach, joined by recent Stonehill College graduate Olivia Porter as co-coach.
“I think she (Porter) is a great addition to work with the younger girls,” Minihan said. “I think we’ll get a great rapport between Olivia and the younger kids, and I think that it’s really important to have a female coach to interact with the girls.
“I’m looking forward to working with her,” he said.
Porter knows a thing or two about running, having captained the Stags as a senior back in her high school days, when she competed in both cross country and track and field.
“I started to do road racing (while in college),” Porter said. “I started with the Run to Remember in Boston. That was my first half marathon.
“I moved on to run the Hartford Marathon,” she said. “I did the Cape Ann 25k as a training race and that was incredible.”
Six of the team’s eight members are middle-schoolers. With so many young runners, this year’s squad will be forging a new identity.
“We lost three seniors who we had for a long time,” Minihan said. “Those three had been the backbone of the team for four years.
“We lost Chloe Casperson, who was our fastest runner last year,” he said. “She’ll be tough to replace, but I think our girls should be improved with this young blood.”
Flanagan is the only senior on the squad. According to Minihan, Flanagan is the first runner to have competed seven years for the Stags, having joined the team as a sixth-grader the first year that was allowed.
“I got into it because my sisters were into it and my mom (Patricia Flanagan) ran the Boston Marathon multiple times and was always a big runner,” Flanagan said.
“I really enjoy running,” she said. “It makes me feel accomplished and happy when I’m done.
“It’s meditative,” Flanagan added. “It definitely helps me mentally and spiritually.”
Porter is glad to have Flanagan on the squad.
“Maureen is not the fastest runner, but she is the clear leader of the girls team,” Porter said. “She gets them going for warmups and stretching.
“Just yesterday, we made a strong effort to run together, and she shared her advice with the younger girls after running for so many years,” she said. “She’s also shared advice with runners who are injured, because she missed almost an entire season herself due to injury.
“She’s really great because of all the knowledge she has and the experience she has,” Porter said. “She’s one of the most valuable runners on the team. She’ll make a difference.”
LeBlanc is the only junior.
“Eve LeBlanc has also been on the team since she was in middle school,” Minihan said. “She comes out and works hard every day.”
With the bulk of the team made up of middle-schoolers, it remains to be seen who will take over Casperson’s mantle as the squad’s top runner.
“It’s hard to tell who is going to be the fastest, but all of them are really strong,” Porter said. “It’s impressive to see these seventh-graders and eighth-graders - we even have a sixth-grader - out here running three plus miles a day at an impressive pace.”
Minihan echoed Porter’s comments.
“The middle school girls are good,” Minihan said. “I think we have a chance to have a really strong team with this group of girls.
“I’m looking forward to a good season,” he said.