Any high school track and field athlete will tell you that four years of athletic and academic prowess flies by faster than a sprinter powering towards the finish line.
With this past weekend’s state championship meets, the tape has been broken for a very talented crop of Northern Maine athletes on some outstanding and memorable careers.
Some of these talented athletes will go on to compete at the New England championships in Massachusetts next weekend, but state-championship competition is always the culmination of a storybook season, whether individual or team glory – or both – is achieved.
The Class of 2017 has accomplished plenty of that in its four years of wowing local track fans with breathtaking runs, throws, sprints and jumps that sometimes turned into a friendly competition of “Can you top this?”
Whether it’s been as an athlete, journalist or a coach, I’ve been around this sport since 1999 and have called a few Division I runners who went to the likes of the University of Maine and Florida State University teammates, but this spring’s senior class is among the most talented to come through eastern/northern Maine in quite some time.
From Austin Lufkin to Jake Koffman and Daija Misler, Hannah Steelman and Kassidy Dill to Tia Tardy and John Hassett to Paul Casavant, hordes of records were broken. Quite a few individual and team state championships were won. Fans and fellow competitors alike were wowed.
MDI’s Tardy broke several conference and state records and became the first girl in the long history of the PVC-Eastern Maine Indoor Track League to break the 5-minute mile barrier, eclipsing a record my old training partner, Heather Clark, had held for well over a decade.
She wrote the final chapter on an incredible high school career by breaking one more state mark in Saturday’s Class B state meet, running 2:14.76 in the 800, nearly two seconds quicker than current Iowa State and former Waterville star Bethanie Brown ran in 2013. Tardy will compete at Bucknell. She even has a state team crown to her credit while competing at Orono her junior season.
Tardy is also a class act who embodies sportsmanship. After she won the 800 at PVCs, she did not leave the track until she shook the hand of every runner to cross the finish line. She has the potential to be one of the top collegiate mid-distance runners in the nation.
Lufkin (Brewer) and Koffman (Orono) emerged as two of the best throwers in the country. Both are also getting Division I scholarships, to Wofford and Stanford, respectively.
Lufkin cracked 60 feet in the shot put last winter, something no Maine schoolboy shot putter had ever done. Koffman was also a pivotal part of three Red Riot state championship teams. Both throwers are humble, hard-working kids who have what it takes to be very successful at the Division I level. Lufkin will also play football at Wofford.
Hassett had an incredible senior year for George Stevens Academy, capping it off with two state championship wins (1,600, 3,200) and will run at UMaine. Plenty of local standouts (Riley Masters, Kelton Cullenberg) have succeeded under Mark Lech’s watch in Orono, and the Black Bears are getting a talented, versatile runner in Hasset.
Hampden teammates Casavant and Misler, the latter of whom will be Tardy’s teammate at Bucknell come September, both posted impressive winning efforts in a talented Class A field.
Casavant, who will run for Cornell, posted a 9:27.46 in winning the 3,200 meters while Misler threw the shot put 41-7.50. Last winter, Misler flirted with a three-decade-old EMITL shot put record,
Casavant, like Hassett, showed his versatility in becoming one of the top distance runners in a program that has consistently churned out top distance talent since the turn of the century.
And then there’s Steelman and Dill, two talented distance runners who embody Orono coach Chris Libby’s team-first philosophy, a big reason why the Red Riot girls have won six straight Class C state titles.
Steelman, who will join Lufkin at Wofford, earned personal-bests in her two individual wins Saturday, but she quickly downplayed them, putting the 20 team points first. Dill is a strong middle distance runner who will compete at UNC-Greensboro, and was a part of two winning Red Riot relays on Saturday and helped Orono’s 4×800 team break a 12-year-old PVC record on Memorial Day.
Undoubtedly, this talented crop of athletes blazed a trail for those who will follow in their footsteps. If Saturday is any indication, Mattanawcook sophomore Cayden Spencer-Thompson – Tardy’s cousin – is going to be one to watch over the next couple years.
One of the nation’s best young triple jumpers, Spencer-Thompson jumped 47-3 to set a new Class C state record.
Maine track fans will certainly have a talented group of young men and women to follow throughout their college careers. The next Mainer to represent home with a chance to live an Olympic dream may have stepped off ovals, runways or throwing circles at Massabesic, Yarmouth and Foxcroft Academy on Saturday.