With six elite distance runners, the 2014 Andover Girls Cross Country team emerged as a national competitor through deliberate pack style running. By the end of the season, Andover finished with an undefeated regular season record, a Nepsac Division I Championship win, and a fourth-place finish in the Northeast Nike Cross Country Regionals.
Entering the season, little was expected from the team, but a skilled group was formed by returning students and new athletes who seized the opportunity to make their mark. The group included Captain Anoush Shehadeh ’15, Grace Rademacher ’18, Michaela Jones ’18, Peyton McGovern ’16, Carmen Bango ’16, and Parker Tope ’16.
According to Rademacher, the team’s top finisher at the Nepsac Championship (Interschols), the emergence of new runners combined with experienced ones to exceed expectations.
“We were very surprised by the team we had and we were kind of a dark horse of a team because we had so many new people. Going into the season, we didn’t know what to expect. And the six of us bonded really quickly and ended up, essentially performing really, really well. It was really exciting and we had such great captains too that year and I miss both of them dearly,” said Rademacher.
For Bango, while individual talent proved useful to Andover’s success, it was the social connection and friendships of the course that made the team special.
“We really supported each other and pushed each other quite literally while we were running. I also think we were more of a team on an emotional level outside of racing and I’m still really close to all those people. We all had this shared passion for running and we got along so well,” said Bango, who placed 12th overall at Interschols.
After claiming an undefeated regular season record and a Nepsac title by a significant margin of 63 points, the team trained together to strive for an even bigger goal, reaching the Nike Cross Country National Event. Traveling to Upstate New York for the Northeast Nike Cross Country Regionals, the team was stacked up against some of the best talent in the area. However, Andover fell short of a top-three finish which would have sealed a trip to the national event, tying for fourth place and missing out by a couple points.
Jones, another one of Andover’s top runners, believes that the pack running strategy, which helped the team reach the regional meet, originated in practice and pushed the tight-knit group to compete more efficiently and collaboratively.
“We ran as a pack everyday at practice, so we had a ton of practice doing that. I don’t know if there was necessarily a strategy, it was more just that we were going to stick together and if one of us felt better, they could go ahead. We knew that we were all about the same speed and that if we ran together, we could push each other to go faster. It’s always fun to have a teammate to run with,” said Jones.
Despite the difficult competition and long practices, the unique team camaraderie allowed each member to truly enjoy the sport, according to McGovern.
“Genuinely it was the team that made the experience so meaningful. Even on our toughest days academically or personally, we knew practice could turn the day around to some degree. A team is infinitely more special when you not only support one another in sport, but in all aspects of life, which we really did throughout that season and beyond. It was an extremely special group,” said McGovern.
Rademacher added, “Cross Country is obviously such an individual sport, but so much of it was team focused. How you win a cross country race is by running in a tight-knit pack, by stacking basically four or five runners in one spot early on in the race. We were able to continuously do that which made us a tight-knit group because we were always doing that and doing the same workouts together. We were able to compete with one another at such a high level and stay really close. In other sports, that would become contentious and there would be tensions, but I never felt that way, I felt that we were just going out for a run with each other. Whoever I was running next to on the course would just feel like I was running with one of my best friends and we were just trying to win.”
The team would go on to repeat as Nepsac Division I champions while finishing with an undefeated regular season record for the second year in a row.