Oyster River Girls Medley Team Makes it to Nationals

Congrats to all athletes who worked hard this winter and made it to nations to compete for individual races. These athletes include: Cook, Kavanagh, Charlotte Cousins, Daniel Doherty, Dillion Labonte, Ty Dorow, Keane Swiesz and Henry Hagen.

This winter track season athletes were worried there would be no racing at all. However, through that uncertainty some really hard work paid off this winter season. The girls distance crew runners Haley Kavanagh, Talia Banafato, Erin Carty, and Mackenzie Cook qualified for nationals in a distance medley race and a 4×800 at Boston University on January 28th.

Many track athletes put in a lot of effort and were very accomplished this season, but the distance medley team is special in their displays of teamwork, underclassmen talent and time improvements. Victories for this group of girls began in the cross country season as they were a part of the first state victory since 1999! Cook and Kavanagh are freshmen and Carty and Banafato are sophomores, all who plan to continue these victories in this next race and throughout their upperclassmen years. The runners reflect on what the challenges of this indoor season were, what kept them motivated, why they love to run and how they got to this level.

Their coach, Nicole Toye, has known all these runners since middle school. This has allowed Toye to understand these girls well as runners and also have a good social connection with them. Toye has mostly done cross country distance with these girls because it is her first year as a track coach at Oyster River. From her other coaching experiences, Toye knew the team had potential to make it to Nationals because they all had run fast enough. She explains, “if you just do what you’ve already done, then you guys [ girls medley race members] are the standard and they all run exactly what they need to run or faster. So nobody in either the boys or the girls DMR ran a slower split than what I had anticipated them running which is just really cool as a coach to see.”

Runners got the most motivation when they heard what the qualifying time was and that they had an opportunity to run it. Cook explained, “we just knew what the qualifying time was, we knew what we needed to do, and we just went out and did it. That feeling afterward was great.”

Although there were moments of great motivation, this season was challenging because of COVID-19’s restrictions on competitions. In normal circumstances the teams would have meets in NH and a lot more opportunities to practice and race at UNH. In order to compete, the team did a lot of traveling to open meets in Massachusetts, and these opportunities were never definite. 

Banafato explained, “we were unsure if we were even going to be able to race at all this season when we started. I think that kind of brought everyone’s enthusiasm down. But then when we saw the qualifying standards, and thought we could beat them, it gave us a new goal. Building mileage is easier when you have a goal. “

When the girls got to the race, they got to see some things that most high schoolers don’t see at their meets. Surrounding them while they were getting their qualifying times at BU were college and professional runners racing. At times this was intimidating because the runners around them were fast and sometimes would lap them. However, they didn’t let that intimidation take away from their goal.

Coming into Nationals, the girls worked really hard. There were times of high mileage, intense speed workout and a lot more lifting than the distance runners have done in the past. They also constantly were thinking about how to prevent injuries and have good fuel for a hard workout. Despite all these things all the girls agree that the most challenging part of training this season was the motivation to work out in the cold. Despite the weather burden, the girls still put in the effort they needed to get in a good workout and train the best they could.

Carty shares what has gotten her to a high level of running her sophomore year, even when it’s cold or she is having a bad training day. “To be a better runner, you just kind of have to get in a good mindset and headspace that there are going to be bad days and bad workouts, but then overall and at the end, having a good workout is so much better. Also, just taking care of yourself and making sure to eat and drink a lot and sleep [helps to make you a better runner].”

The team is tight because each runner takes running very seriously, commits a lot of time to the team and is very driven to win. Always seeing each other work through the hard days and boost each other up has allowed the team to individually improve and for many change their perspectives on running. Each runner has different motivations, strengths, experience and future goals for running.

Cook has loved running since before 5th grade, on fun runs with her mom. In middle school she started racing and taking running more seriously. There were some adjustments in getting ready for high school running, but she felt ready to be a part of more competitions and put more work into the sport because she loves it. Her mom is also a serious runner, so when Cook is on an off season, she can always get support and advice from her mom. Her mom always supports her daughter in her sports and is constantly a motivator, as well as Toye and her teammates. Cook is interested in college running but also cares a lot about lacrosse. 

Kavanagh has been running since fifth grade. She liked it then but not as much as she does now. In high school she has been motivated by seeing constant improvement and also accomplishing her race goals. She explains that her favorite part of running is “ the feeling of when you’re done and knowing that you’re working hard. At the end of a race, if I didn’t work hard, then there’s not as much to be excited for.” 

Carty has also been running since middle school and initially thought she wouldn’t like running. But, when she joined the cross country team and dedicated more time to it, she found it very rewarding. Carty is very dedicated and believes that her teammates always being there with her at practice has pushed herself to be the runner she is today. Her goal is to continue running in track and cross country and continue winning the relay races. 

Banafato is one of the most improved athletes in this mix of girls. Talia did cross country in middle school but started track in high school. Last year she ran JV cross country and different running events. This year she has made it into varsity races and her 600 meter time translates to an 800 meter time that’s 15 seconds faster. Talia also loves seeing the improvement but most of all just loves seeing her teammates everyday and making fun out of practice even during the days with challenging workouts. 

All athletes are continuously getting stronger, especially together. The relay went so successfully because the runners all had a goal that drove them and all knew they were running the best for their teammates. Banafato explained, “I’m very motivated by my teammates, especially the fact that the top five of us in cross country row are underclassmen. It just gave us a lot of momentum after we won states, [and I’m] hoping to continue with that group up until Erin and Tessa are seniors.  I think all of us together just have a lot of fun at practice. We all take running seriously… and we have good times together.” 

A lot of behind the scene work also comes from Toye. The runners’ connection with their coach is another big piece of the team’s success. Cook explains that Toye is always so motivating. She comes up with these workouts and knows that we can do them. And even if they’re hard, we have that feeling afterwards that we just accomplished it. I feel like she just knows us and she knows what we should do to get better. And I think that’s good.” Carty continues, “She’s a great coach. She just focuses on each athlete individually and personally, and she does what’s best for each of us. I think she really cares about the team and cares about building strong female runners.”

While the girls would have loved even more opportunities to run this season, the whole team made great use of the opportunities they did have and had fun while doing it. The medley racers are all excited to race again in the future and be given more opportunities for improvement.