Two years ago, Selena Wood was only a freshman playing a key role on the Abington High cross country team that won its first regular-season league title in 41 years.
Vangie McCleary was in sixth grade, at the time.
But in current day, as Wood wraps up her junior season, she has witnessed history flash by once again. Only this time, it's a little more personal.
Wood and McCleary, now an eighth grader, were named co-MVP of the South Shore League (alongside Cohasset's Maggie Brinzey) as the tandem each finished the dual meet schedule undefeated against all other league opponents.
“Me, personally, I wasn’t,” said head coach Matt Campbell, who is in his fifth season. “These two were the only two girls in the league that didn’t lose to anyone. They kind of flip-flopped throughout races, but they went No. 1 and 2 every race. When you do that, it’s hard not to say who’s MVP.”
It's only the second season eighth graders are eligible to join the Abington High cross country team. McCleary is one of four aboard, matching the total from last year's squad.
Once torn between soccer and cross country, McCleary, also a former basketball player, decided to make her varsity debut as a runner. She plans running track in both the winter and spring seasons, like Wood does.
Obviously pleased with the decision, Campbell, the reigning South Shore League track Coach of the Year, recalled the first time seeing her take part in the youth program last spring.
“We looked up and thought, ‘Who is this kid? She’s crushing it,'" Campbell said. "She just has that ‘it’ factor. She’s so coachable, she listens, she takes care of her body. Just a really bright kid… and she seems to bring the fun factor to running, which, if anyone has ever run before, not everyone finds (that).”
“So when you’re on a team with a kid like Vangie, who is that positive right out of the gate, it becomes infectious… She’s just a one-of-a-kind, really good kid.”
Wood and McCleary concluded up the league schedule by defeating Carver on Oct. 18 with the top two finishes -- Wood came in first at 15:33, McCleary not far behind at 15:57.
As the two made their way around the practice track at Abington High earlier this month, Campbell pointed out that Wood and McCleary run in an identical stride: “You can even see them right here," Campbell said as they rounded a turn. "Literally, they’re toe-for-toe, neck-and-neck every step of the way.”
That was often the case throughout the regular season, but that Carver win was the last meet the tandem took part in together as McCleary missed the South Shore Championship Meet and MIAA Divisional Championships due to illness.
Wood, who has been running track since her eight grade year, came in first at the South Shore Championship with a time of 19:44.7, and then 10th at the MIAA meet with a time of 21:29.5.
“I didn’t have her to work off of," Wood said of McCleary. "We always do this little handshake before the races, we work really well together. We always have the same goals to remain undefeated so it was special getting (co-MVP) with her.”
Although Campbell wasn't surprised by the award, Wood and McCleary had a different reaction.
“It did (surprise me). A lot,” Wood said. “I was so happy we both got it because if one of us hadn’t, I would’ve been really shocked because our energy kind of works off each other on the line.”
The success they have cherished this season has tied Wood and McCleary together, as the two hardly knew of each other before the season began.
“I see her as literally the future of the team," Wood raved. "She’s hitting absolutely insane times and for her to get MVP as an eighth grader ‒ it’s insane. I’m super proud of her. We’ve become super close this season and I’m sad I only get two seasons (with her), but I’m so happy that I do.”
In her first varsity race, McCleary came in first with a 2.6-mile time of 17:55 against Rockland on Sept. 9. Six days later, against Randolph, she took first place again with a 2.8 mile placing of 18:55. McCleary did the same in meets against Norwell and Cohasset.
“I was very nervous on the first day," McCleary said with a chuckle. "Selena knows – I was freaking out. But I think having the whole team supporting me made me feel a lot better.”
Added McCleary, “(Wood) pushes me to be a lot better. I think we’re pushing each other a lot, which is really good because every time I step to the line, I know we’re going to challenge each other and have a fun time running together.”
It is not yet determined what events McCleary will partake in during the winter and spring track seasons, but Wood hopes that, perhaps, they can reunite on the 4x4 relays.
Wood has jumped around to different events in her four years of experience, including the 600-meter and 1,000-meter during the winter and the 800-meter come springtime. Campbell acknowledged how crucial Wood has been in the team's overall development, which featured strong outings from freshmen Hannah Steel, Alyvia Platka, Amanda Magnuson, Kailey Fitts, senior Allison Lindvall and sophomore Lilly Mules.
Wood stamped her junior cross country season with a placing of 15th (20:31.55) at All-States on Nov. 19.
“She’s taken on some leadership roles. I’ve coached her every season. She has a lot of experience with injuries, training, versatility, races, meets, strategy – all those little things you need for this sport," said Campbell of Wood. "She’s just a sponge of information. Her knowledge is just as helpful as her abilities, which is awesome.”
“I feel like there’s never a dull moment," Wood said. "With the boys team too, we get along really well and we all cheer each other a ton. We cheer on other teams in the South Shore League, we’re all super supportive.”
Together, now the Wood-McCleary duo will carry the co-MVP award into the winter track season.
“I was very happy and so excited we both got it together. It felt so good because Selena definitely deserves it," McCleary said. "She helped me through everything and really inspired me.”
This article originally appeared on The Enterprise: Abington High cross country runners share South Shore League MVP honor