AYER-SHIRLEY -- Competing in the Mid-Wach-D division is a tough feat for the Ayer-Shirley harriers, but these Panthers are hungry for a trip to districts and beyond.
Head coach Mike Seguin is hopeful that his team's early-season bumps start to level out with the unprecedented leadership of senior captains Jay Jewitt and Hannah Levensailor at the front of the herd. Jewitt helped to put Ayer on the map with his first-place finish at the league meet a year ago. Hannah also has a younger freshman sister on the squad, Ryleigh, who placed 55th at the state meet with a time of 20:34 as an eighth-grader.
Coach Seguin and assistant head coach Jim Ryan both invest a lot of their faith in Jewitt and the Levensailor sisters, and hope their drive will begin to rub off on the rest of the Panthers' harriers.
Jewitt and both of his coaches spotlighted the team's needs in the remaining meets this season.
"Right off the gun, you're just trying to get in front of everybody. That kind of scared mindset helps you widen the gap between you and the number two runner, and if you can do that by the time the final mile comes, they won't be able to catch you," said Jewitt. No one has caught Jewitt yet this year, as he has been the Panthers' top finisher in each race this season.
Jewitt's face lit up at the mention of his district title. "It felt awesome because nobody knows much about Ayer, then I took leagues, then it's this small team beating these bigger schools like Gardner, Murdock, Clinton and Bromfield. I like to beat Bromfield.
Jewitt and Levensailor both believe that the potion needed for their late-season turnaround is continued improvement from the entire team and not becoming complacent. The two athletes competed in the Race to the Border challenge this summer as a part of their off-season workout.
Coach Seguin's bunch is very talented, and it just so happens that the rest of the Mid-Wachusett D division is too.
"Jewitt won leagues last year, but our goal is to progress onward to districts and states: Ryleigh and Jay both qualified for the state meet last year, but he was unable to attend due to a family vacation," Ryan said.
Ryleigh Levensailor has been leaving her opponents in the dust, finishing in first-place in all but her first varsity meet, in which she finished second.
"I think we will improve throughout the rest of the season, both individually and as a team," said Ryleigh Levensailor.
Jewitt and Levansailor are leaders by example and epitomize what it means to be a cross-country athlete.
"It's tough in cross country, because it is a very internal sport," said Seguin. "They're not the in-your-face football captains. When we give them the workouts, they're out there working hard; what they do is their example. We sometimes have to tell them to stop running."
A loud voice came bellowing from the adjacent room as the interview was coming to a close. It was none other than Hannah Levensailor, exclaiming, "Ready guys, let's run."
Ayer-Shirley, led by the Levensailor sisters and Jewitt, intend to continue their trek through leagues on high octane and are hoping that their final destination rests at the state meets.