Just an eighth grader, Lauren Long leads a deep Lunenburg High cross country team. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE/JOHN LOVE

The North Middlesex Regional girls’ cross country team had unprecedented success last season, finishing in fifth place overall in an ultra-competitive Division 1 District Championship Meet. Despite being one of the smallest schools in enrollment size, the Patriots competed right with the perennial powers and look to do the same this year.

The surprising thing is that there is a good chance they do even better. With everyone returning and some strong additions, the team goal this year is to make it to the state championship as a team, which is a possibility this season for the Patriots.

Senior Riley Maskalenko finished 13th in the district and returns as the team’s top runner. The top three can rotate day-to-day as sophomore Lindsay Swartz cracked the top 20 in districts as well, in 16th, and Morgan Nesbit finished 18th at districts. Sophia D’Ambrosio and Melissa Genoter were top 50 runners at districts and figure to battle for the backend of the scorers. Tessa Holloran and Annaliese Henneberg could also score in the top five.

“I would say we’re even stronger than last year,” head coach Alexandra Piatelli said. “We did not lose a single runner, we have our entire varsity seven from last year, additionally we were able to convince some of our distance track girls to do cross country this year. It’s only my second year as coach and third in the school, but from what I’ve heard from the (athletic director) I don’t think we’ve ever been this good.”

Lunenburg

Lunenburg returns a good chunk of its roster from a team that finished fifth at the Division 2 District Championship and expectations are pretty high. Eighth grader Lauren Long returns as the top runner, after placing 17th overall in the district. Abby Rodriquenz (36th), a freshman top 40 district runner, returns as a solid No. 2. Freshman Breanna Bajako has been the surprise of the year, ascending to the third spot, while junior captain Keena Kelly and Ava Pilon are consistent scorers.“I think the girls are going to have a great year,” head coach Karma Tousignant said. “Bromfield and Littleton are our rivals, and the girls would love to win league’s, and go to state’s. We’re very young, but I do believe in their potential, if not this year, then next year.”Nashoba

Nashoba is a little on the younger side and only has only eight runners on its roster, but there is some quality talent in its ranks. Hanna Fish took home 44th at districts and will likely lead the way in her junior campaign. Senior captains Elise Carlin and Rose O’Riorden will provide some quality scoring as well. Ava Klein is a rising sophomore, and a couple of newcomers will battle it out for the remaining spot.“Fish looks fantastic,” head coach Dan Glover said. “(Carlin and O’Riorden) are my two captains and they are doing a great job of leading the team. It is one of the most dedicated, hard-working teams that I’ve had in a while now, across the board.”Oakmont

Oakmont lost its shining star Delaney Collins to graduation, which will be a big blow. But with some good talent coming up the ranks, the Spartans look to compete in Mid Wach C. Oakmont has three captains Emma Tabor, Abigail Wandless, and sophomore Fiona Picone (who finished 19th overall at districts). Oakmont has 10 girls on the team, and six are freshman who are battling it out for the top five.“Picone is the person that we’re probably going to be building around,” head coach Ken Jepson said. “She won the Quabbin Invitational Division1 race, which I’m not sure if anyone from Oakmont has ever done before, and she missed the state’s individually by just a couple of spots.”

Ayer Shirley

Senior Mairead Hanley was a top 40 runner at districts and returns as the top runner on Ayer Shirley. Hanley has taken freshman Gwen Connors under her wings the last two seasons, and it is paying dividends, as Connors has developed into a solid No. 2 runner. A crew of seniors will battle it out for the remaining scoring spots, as Katie Cadogan, Emily Russell, Mackenzie Marshall, Eryca Lopes, Brooke Venkitachalam, Nasia Vykov will jockey for positioning.

“The last two years the girls won the league title, and I would say that’s their motivation again this year,” head coach Mike Seguin said. “The Maynard girls have been very strong, but we somehow found a way to pull it out, and that’s our goal again, to find a way to beat Maynard.”

Sizer

Comprised of mostly sophomores and eighth graders (with 12 girls on the roster), there is a high likelihood that the White Tigers will earn a three-peat in their Worcester County league championship meet this year. Leading the way is eighth grader Abby Barto, a young leader with a lot of future promise. Bailey Mulrenan is also an eighth grader that is pushing Barto for the top spot. Odette Amoakohene is a sophomore in the three-spot, but she has experience leading the way as well. Kassadie Ouellette and Gabriella Houle typically complete the scoring.“The girls are very strong,”head coach Ryan Prescott said. “We won the league (Worcester County Athletic) last year and the year before, and we’re probably going to win the league again. We only lost our fifth best runner from last year’s team.”

Leominster

Junior Erin Bousquet is taking centerstage for the Leominster girls. Alayna Woodward returns in the No. 2 spot after finishing in the top 100 at Division 1 districts along with Bousquet. Emily Brown is in close proximity to Woodward in the standings, and looks to better a strong season from last year. Makayla Diaz finished fourth on the team last year as a freshman, and will aim to continue to move up the ranks this season. Promising freshman Kenzie Cummings could continue to make an immediate impact.

“We’re looking for continued improvement,” head coach Karen Marino said. “We’re hoping that one of them can qualify out of districts to state’s. Bousquet has a good shot if she has a good season.”

Fitchburg

The Red Raiders boast great numbers with 19 on their roster, but most of the runners are newcomers and freshmen. The good news is the future looks bright as each runner looks to improve every week. Lina Kherallah finished 36th at districts and will return as the Red and Gray’s top runner. Annaka Gendron, third on the team last year, will ascend into the No. 2 spot, and marks the only other district returner on the team. Yazmin Rodriguez, Aleysha Santos, Aria BiCato, and Abby Garcia will battle for top five on the team.

“We’re extremely young, and inexperienced,” head coach Jack Scott said. “We only have two girls returning from our top seven last year, and a lot of beginner runners. Over the first couple weeks of the season I’ve seen some good progress in the girls though.”

Monty Tech

Monty Tech started the season with just four girls on its roster, but is looking to build quality experience. Cami Haas, Lauren Hare, Kaya Scarela will look to gain their first district experience by the end of the season.

“The girls are running with the guys and training the best that they can,” head coach Andrew Caouette said. “They’re working hard as a team, and using the team to get in great shape.”

Gardner

Gardner has fallen victim to injuries early in the season, as two of its top three runners are out with ailments. But some of the younger Wildcats are stepping up in their place, which could mean good things comes district time, if everyone is healthy. Leilini Markley is currently the lead Wildcat, followed by Sarah Perciful and Ariana Butler. Elaine Shaffer is also a consistent scorer. Kaylee Bettez and Katrina Magoon are currently sidelined with injuries but look to return later in the season.

“We have two seniors on the team, but everyone else is 10th grade or younger,” head coach Melissa Chisholm said. “We are doing a lot of skill building, and two of our top runners are out currently. Our girls are shaving a lot of time off of their races, and we’re excited for the end of the season.”