GROTON — The Groton-Dunstable girls cross country team has really stepped up the pace this season, and it’s been a team effort all the way.

After finishing their regular season with a gaudy 8-2 record, and earning a strong second place finish in the MidWach B Meet behind Gardner, the Lady Crusaders added the cherry on top of the cake with a great effort at the Central Mass. Division 1 Meet at the Gardner Memorial Golf Course. They finished third behind Wachusett and Gardner, qualifying for the State Division 1 Championships in the process.

“I didn’t know coming into the season what to expect because we had only three seniors,” said Groton-Dunstable coach Diane Repaal, now in her eighth season at the helm of the Lady Crusaders. “We finished 5-5 last year and I thought we could better that, but what we have done has far exceeded my expectations.”

There are many reasons for the success story, and it begins with veteran leadership.

“Our four captains – juniors Jessica Gaissl, Allison Fusco and Emily Barbo, and senior Laura Leahy have been instrumental,” said Repaal. “Their strong commitment has made this a very cohesive team. Jessica and Allison went to running camp over the summer and they were big in pulling the girls together. They started to build the team before the season began. All four captains signed a contract to meet the expectations required of them. I wanted the captains to lead and set the tone and they did that without a doubt.”

The contributions of a pair of newcomers has provided a vital infusion of talent as freshman Micaela Lacombe and junior Heather Hoglund have been the team’s two top runners this season. Lacombe finished first at the Central Mass. Championships while Hoglund was a strong 11th.

“Micaela has been an inspiration to the other girls on the team,” said Repaal. “She has a lot of drive, always has a positive attitude and just seems to have fun running. The other girls respect her and her ability, and that has inspired everyone to do their best.

“Heather came out for the team this season after playing soccer last year,” said Repaal. “She has been a big addition with both her ability and attitude. She has been a pleasant surprise.”

The third through fifth slots for the Lady Crusaders this season has been manned by a trio of sophomores – Hadden Martinez, Molly Pratt and Stephanie Dodson.

“Those three sophomores are highly competitive with each other and they do a good job of pushing each other,” said Repaal. “They have provided a lot of consistency in the third through fifth slots, and their order can change on any given day.”

Senior Melissa Church is next in line and she rose to the occasion at the Central Massachusetts Championships when she ensured the third place finish when she was the fifth Lady Crusader to cross the finish line.

“Melissa brings a great spirit to the team,” said Repaal. “Hard work on her part has led to her improvement.”

Allison Fusco was the seventh Lady Crusader to run at the Central Mass. Championships.

“Allison has a special ability to pull everyone together and she is an important member of this team,” said Repaal.

Rounding out the top ten runners for the Lady Crusaders are junior Nancy Chaney, Emily Barbo and freshman Jen Fusco.

Part of the success story comes from the interest in the sport at the school and this year there were 27 girls on the team. Also on the squad were senior Cori Glennie, juniors Alison Cocchiola, Laura Eames, Allison Rainville, Emily Sawyer, Catherine Ward and Megan Wolfe, sophomores Ninoshka Boczenowski and Patricia Comuzzi, and freshmen Sarah Carey, Sarah Collins, Rachel Keissling, Valerie Pietsch, Allison Rosa and Samantha Ward.

“Our goal for the year was to make ourselves known in the state,” said Repaal. “The entire team came out and did the ‘Jog for Joey’ in early September and the team also manned the water station at the Bay State Marathon and received a third place award for the spirit they displayed.

“We came out and defeated Nashoba at Nashoba in our first meet and that gave us a big boost of confidence,” said Repaal. “I think the infusion of talent we had this season, the early success we had, and those two early unity builders were keys to the season.”

How important is it the team qualified for the State Meet?

“I think it is huge,” said Repaal. “Going there is something that was way beyond our imaginations. I’m sure the success that we had this season will help increase turnout, but anyone coming must be willing to run and make the commitment.

“This has been my most rewarding season, not just because of the wins but because the caliber of the girls is so outstanding,” said Repaal. “They lend support and are willing to help each other. That is something I can’t coach and must come from the girls themselves.”