Their homes are all within a mile of each other in the Highlands neighborhood of Lowell.
They’ve been cross country teammates and close friends for over eight years.
Whether they’re on the course or not, Sarah Ames, Erin McCabe, Madison Morneau, Kalei Sam and Anna Woodlock are never far apart. On Wednesday, they fittingly got to celebrate together.
The talented quintet of Lowell High School senior runners got the perfect finish to their high school cross country careers. The Red Raiders completed an undefeated 7-0 season with a 15-47 victory over Dracut at Shedd Park. It was the first unbeaten season for the program since 2013, and the aforementioned friendly fivesome played a major role in the Red Raiders’ ascension.
“They’re teammates and they’re very competitive, but at the end of practice of after a meet, they’re just back to being close friends,” said Lowell head coach MaryBeth McKenney-Finn. “There’s never any animosity or any of that.”
Since their days running and winning championships for the Daley Middle School cross country team, the seniors have pushed each other and brought out the best in each other.
They’re all strong students as well, just as driven in the classroom as they are on the course. Just ask Lowell assistant cross country coach Nate Kraft, who teaches four of them in the same AP Government class
“They’re competitive in almost everything they do,” said Kraft.
As it has in just about every aspect of life, the COVID-19 pandemic has enormously altered the high school experience for students, and that includes athletics. But the seniors were ecstatic to be given a chance to compete this fall, and they clearly made the most of that opportunity.
“It was definitely really fun. It was a weird season but it was nice to all be together and finish with a great season, because we’ve been together for so long,” said McCabe.
Said Sam, “It’s been fun to see how all of us have been getting better each year and how everyone has grown to become great runners and great people. We’re just lucky.”
The girls say their personalities are all different, but they do share many similarities, such as a willingness to lead when the times calls for it.
“Some days, someone is feeling that vocal role and will throw in some pick-ups out on the course,” said Woodlock. “Then other days, it won’t be that same person.”
Said Morneau, “I feel like it can be really hard when you’re out there, running by yourself. But we’ve never had to do that, we’ve always had the same group of us running together. To have someone push you really helps us all.”
In a sport dominated by individual times, these athletes say the best part of running cross country at Lowell is being part of the team.
That camaraderie helped them navigate through a bizarre fall that featured mask-wearing and races that were conducted in waves, with one team going out on the course together and the opponent going out separately.
Cross country runners spent much of the summer not even knowing if there was going to be a season.
“We were in contact with them, especially the seniors, because over the summer they get the rest of the kids going and make sure they’re getting runs in,” said McKenney-Finn. “We knew they were getting runs in, but we weren’t sure what anything would look like in the fall.
“We got here and maybe they weren’t in as great of running shape as they might’ve been in other years. Just a little more rusty than usual.”
It didn’t take long for the Red Raiders to find their form, as they cruised through their Merrimack Valley Conference schedule.
That task was made a lot easier thanks to a group of five reliable, dedicated seniors.
“A group like that will be tough replace,” said McKenney-Finn. “Just the leadership they bring to the team and being great role models for everyone else.”