By Jean DePlacido
---- — For the past three years Catarina Rocha dominated the girls’ cross country scene, not only at Peabody High School but throughout Massachusetts and beyond. She was the best of the best.
There’s no question the Tanners will have a different look this fall — but that doesn’t mean they won’t still be a power to contend with.
Senior co-captains Sam Allen and Sydney May are ready to lead the team along with junior Lauren Barrett. All three played big roles in leading Peabody to the Northeastern Conference, Division 1 and All-State championships a year ago. Senior Antonia Pagliuca also returns as one of the Tanners’ top four runners.
“This is a different season, but we still have a very strong top group of runners,” said head coach Jose Rocha. “It’s going to take a little more this year because we don’t have as much overall depth, but they’ve all been doing a lot of work over the summer. Our top three are a very close bunch, with Antonia right behind, but we have to close the gap between our No. 1 and No. 5. The pack has to develop a little quicker to provide that needed depth.”
Allen said she and Barrett (who placed 16th at All-States last fall) have been training together and did everything their coach asked them to during summer workouts. They also held captains’ practices twice a week for the last month.
“We have to step it up,” said Allen, who is running cross country for the third year and also does indoor and outdoor track. “Catarina was always first, but I think we can make up for her absence if our top three combine to do more. We have experience and have to take a bigger role in leadership, along with Lauren.
“Most of our team has competed in the big meets, and we will be well prepared. Our first and foremost goal is to win the league, and we want to do well at the Division 1 meet so we can get to the All-States again as a team.”
Barrett, who was one of the top runners in the NEC as a sophomore, took her summer training to a new level because she knows the team is going to count heavily on her.
“In previous years I did the training, but slacked off a bit near the end of summer,” said Barrett. “That wasn’t the case this time; Sam and I pushed each other all the time. We’re both in really good shape now. In fact, everyone had a great summer training routine.
“The biggest thing is closing the gaps; we need some of the young runners to step up. Our third and fourth girls (May and Pagliuca) are all set, and there’s talent in the newcomers. We’re expecting a really good year as long as we get some help in the 5th, 6th and 7th spots.”
“We are still very strong,” added May. “With our top four back and sophomore Mackenzie Picardy looking good, we have high hopes.”