Southern Maine teams may have dominated Saturday’s cross country state championships in Belfast, but two local Class C schools left the Midcoast with long-awaited cross country hardware.
Entering Saturday’s meet, the Orono boys hadn’t won a state crown since Gerald Ford was President (1975), while the George Stevens Academy girls had yet to raise a state championship trophy.
Both of those missions were accomplished on Saturday.
The Eagles from Blue Hill, who had engaged in two thrilling postseason confrontations with Orono, captured the third battle and edged the Red Riots 52-61.
Pack power proved to be the winning formula for GSA yet again, with Eliza Brouhgton, Zeya Lorio and Mary Richardson finishing 2-3-5.
The Orono boys used a similar equation to complete its championship puzzle, with all five scoring Red Riots finishing in the top 15 as they finished comfortably in front of Maine Coast Waldorf of New Gloucester.
The wins by the Eagles and the Red Riots not only made history for those programs, which have always fielded talented teams over the years, but showed that pack power is what wins you state championships in cross country.
You see, in cross country, you’re only as good as your fifth runner. Even if you have a runner as fast as a Louie Luchini, Heather Clark or a Riley Masters – those runners are some of the best to ever have traversed Maine’s trails – you’ve got to have a solid pack behind them.
And that’s what enabled the Red Riots and Eagles to raise state-championship hardware.
Any coach will tell you that the only time on the stopwatch that truly matters come late October and early November is the “pack time,” or the difference between a team’s first and fifth runner.
The pack times for GSA and Orono, respectively: 1 minute, 31 seconds and 31 seconds.
“That’s been our goal all season,” Orono coach Lin White said. “They key off each other and do it very, very well.”
The Riots’ title was special in the sense that they finally broke through after being state runner-up the last four seasons.
In fact, White said longtime Orono track and field distance coach Steve Dexter, who captained the 1975 state championship team, was in Belfast on Saturday to cheer on his Red Riots.
“It was a great day all around for our program,” White said.
It’s also safe to say that the Orono boys and GSA girls are going to be among the favorites in Class C again next fall.
The Eagles’ top five runners at states don’t have a senior among them, while the Red Riot boys only had three seniors in their top five.
Maine teams heading to New England championships
For the top six teams and top 25 individuals in Saturday’s state championships, the season is not over.
Those 12 schools and 50 individuals will represent Maine in Saturday’s New England championship meet in Rhode Island.
On the girls’ side, that means George Stevens, Class B champ Greely of Cumberland Center, Class A titlist Bonny Eagle of Standish, York, Yarmouth and Falmouth will race in the Ocean State this weekend.
Leading the local qualifiers was Class B individual runner-up Tia Tardy of Mount Desert Island, who posted the second-fastest time of the day on Saturday at 18:14.48, behind Yarmouth’s Abigail Hamilton (18:05.31).
Also heading to Rhode Island is the talented Camden Hills of Rockport duo of Emma Trapini and Grace Iltis.
For the boys, Orono will be joined by Class A state champ Falmouth, Class B winner Greely and Deering of Portland, Windham and Wells.
Individuals to watch include George Stevens senior John Hassett, the Class C state champ who posted a time of 15:56.12.
Mt. Blue of Farmington’s Tucker Barber recorded the fastest time at the state meet (15:47.33).
Hampden Academy will send three individuals to New Englands in Paul Casavant, Wyatt Lord and William Webb.