BUCKSPORT — In a year where togetherness has been far too scarce, a peaceful fall afternoon in Bucksport provided a much-needed break from the mold.
Between the year’s hyper-regionalized events and limits on gathering sizes, competition during the 2020 cross-country season has taken place on a much smaller scale than usual. School invitationals and the renowned Festival of Champions alike have seen fewer runners from fewer teams competing than in years past, and a shortened season has made the meets fewer in number.
On this afternoon, though, runners from Hancock County’s five participating schools got to compete together for the first time this season. True, the field wasn’t as large this year, but competing in ideal racing conditions against the area’s best runners was plenty rewarding for athletes who have been itching for a chance to compete for hardware.
Runners from Bucksport, Ellsworth, Mount Desert Island, George Stevens Academy and Deer Isle-Stonington competed in the Hancock County championships Monday at Bucksport High School. The meet marked the official start of championship season and the final event before a two-week hiatus ahead of the regional and state title meets.
“When you’re able to get every Hancock team together like this and race, I love it,” Bucksport head coach Chris Jones said. “It’s a different version of the [county championships] than what you usually have, but the day couldn’t have been better.”
On the boys’ side, MDI won the team competition with a score of 26 points. The Trojans beat out GSA (46 points) and Bucksport (62 points) to win the Hancock County crown for the third time in four seasons.
The boys’ event was a race to the finish between MDI senior Ponce Saltysiak and Bucksport freshman William Hileman. Although Saltysiak won the race with a time of 16 minutes, 15.77 seconds, Hileman, who finished just 5.22 seconds shy of his MDI counterpart, put forth an effort that was no less impressive.
“William put in tons of mileage over the summer to the point where he was running 40 miles a week,” Jones said. “At one point, he hurt his heel and couldn’t run, so he started biking 20 miles a day. The fact that he’s doing what he’s doing right now as a freshman is a testament to what he did this summer.”
Also eclipsing the 17-minute mark on the afternoon were GSA’s Clark Morrison (third place; 16:53.14) and MDI’s Sam York (fourth place; 16:56.93). Calvin Nelson (eighth; 17:41.90) and Henry Penfold (13th; 18:31.71) finished as the top runners for Ellsworth and Deer Isle-Stonington, respectively.
MDI also took home the county championship on the girls’ side with a team score of 20 points. Callan Eason, Grace Munger, Olivia Johnson, Ella Joyce and Piper Soares completed a sweep of the top seven for the Trojans, who scored 20 points to top GSA’s 41.
GSA sophomore Thea Crowley claimed the girls’ individual crown with a winning time of 19:09.72, 31.44 seconds ahead of second-place finisher Eason. Bucksport’s Rebekah Ireland (eighth place; 21:39.32) and Ellsworth’s Sara Shea (10th place; 22:13.06) finished as the top runners for their respective teams.
GSA had two additional top-10 finishers in Violet Czuj (ninth place; 21:45.90) and Grace Broughton (10th place; 21:56.07). Eagles head coach Todd Eckenfelder, whose seven-member girls’ contingent included four freshmen, was also pleased with June Jones, who finished 16th with a time of 22:34.32.
“[June is] a freshman who didn’t even know a couple months ago if she was going to come out and run, and she ran an amazing race,” Eckenfelder said. “We’ve got a young team, and it was really cool to see her and our other freshman kids run well.”
The race was originally scheduled for the weekend but was pushed back two days in anticipation of inclement weather Saturday morning. The cool temperature, slight breeze and fall foliage provided a scenic setting in the hills of western Hancock County, and the drier grass allowed for faster times than what would’ve resulted Saturday.
“I like this course a lot,” Ellsworth head coach Louie Luchini said. “This Bucksport course is fast and pretty smooth, so it’s a fun one. … It’s a bit hard to have a race after school because everyone can be a bit drained, but it was a good day for running.”
The next meet for Hancock County runners will be the Northern Maine championships next Saturday, Oct. 31, at Bangor’s Saxl Park. Races are set for 9 a.m. (Class C boys), 11:15 a.m. (Class C girls), 1:30 p.m. (Class B boys) and 3:45 p.m. (Class B girls).
With no meets this weekend, local teams will have an opportunity to rest up ahead of that state championship qualifier. Should weather and surface conditions be favorable on race day, Luchini, who ran on the course himself during his time as an Ellsworth runner in the late 1990s, expects to see more fast times.
“It’s another fast 5K that’s almost entirely on grass,” Luchini said. “As long as it doesn’t get all muddy or ripped up, it should be another good day on another good cross-country course.”