Ellsworth, Bucksport and George Stevens Academy runners compete in a high school cross-country meet Sept. 25 at Ellsworth High School. Local cross-country teams began their seasons Friday with meets in Ellsworth and Searsport. ELLSWORTH AMERICAN PHOTO BY MIKE MANDELL

Cross-country season begins with Ellsworth, Searsport meets

ELLSWORTH — Hancock County’s cross-country season is officially up and running.

It’s a new scene, one that includes wider courses, staggered starts to races and fewer teams at each meet than in past years. Yet the competition is back, and in a shortened season, the push for glory is reaching a vital stage even though the campaign is only beginning.

Local teams competed in their first meets of the year Friday with events held in Ellsworth and Searsport. The meets marked the start of competition that will heat up fast as a delayed season begins to take shape.

Ellsworth, Bucksport and George Stevens Academy opened their respective seasons with a three-team meet at Ellsworth High School. The meet saw Ellsworth win a hard-fought contest on the boys’ side and GSA start off with a win on the girls’ side.

In the boys’ race, Bucksport freshman William Hileman finished in 16 minutes, 4.33 seconds, to earn a win in his first high school competition. GSA’s Clark Morrison crossed the finish line in 16:37.86 to place second, and Nick Cormier (Ellsworth; 16:57.07), Calvin Nelson (Ellsworth; 16:57.53) and Sol Lorio (GSA; 17:13.44) rounded out the top five.

The boys’ race saw an Ellsworth team that placed fourth in last year’s Northern Maine championship meet showcase its depth to edge its Hancock County counterparts. Three seniors, Cormier, Nelson and Bryce Carter (ninth place 18:19.49), led the way for an Ellsworth team that comprised half of the 40-person field.

“We’ve got 20 boys this year, and they’ve all been working hard in practice,” said Ellsworth head coach Louie Luchini, whose team’s 66 points topped GSA’s 79 and Bucksport’s 86. “Having Calvin, Nick and Bryce back as senior captains has been big for our leadership. They all want to finish strong in their senior years.”

Ellsworth’s Kayla Duhaime competes in Friday’s meet at Ellsworth High School. Select runners will compete in the Festival of Champions at 11 a.m. next Saturday, Oct. 3, at Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast.

GSA sophomore and reigning Northern Maine champion Thea Crowley breezed to a win on the girls’ side with a time of 18:25.73. GSA, which registered 16 points as a team to beat out Ellsworth’s 42, also got top-five finishes from Grace Broughton (second place, 20:50.59), Josie Czuj (fourth place, 20:55.23) and Violet Czuj (fifth, 21:00.90).

Rebekah Ireland finished third with a time of 20:51.35 for Bucksport, which did not field enough runners to qualify for a team score. Leah MacPherson (sixth place, 21:08.22) and Sara Shea (eighth place, 21:08.22) finished in the top half of the 16-runner field for Ellsworth.

Elsewhere Friday night, runners from Mount Desert Island and Deer Isle-Stonington traveled to Searsport District High School for a three-team competition. The MDI boys and girls topped the host team 15-50 and 15-48, respectively, to begin the 2020 campaign with victories.

For the MDI boys, Ponce Saltysiak started his senior year off in winning fashion as he finished first with a time of 17:31.80. Cody Parker (17:42.48), Jon Genrich (19:07.17), Sam York (19:28.08) and Mason Soares (20:10.30) gave the Trojans a sweep of the top five. For Deer Isle-Stonington, Henry Penfold crossed the finish line in 21:04.01 to place 10th in the field of 32 runners.

MDI sophomore Callan Eason claimed the individual win in the girls’ race with a time of 22:19.89. Ella Joyce (23:11.93), Olivia Johnson (23:47.09), Grace Munger (24:02.03) and Piper Soares (24:23.64) rounded out another top-five sweep for the Trojans.

Friday’s races saw the introduction of staggered starts to events, a precaution implemented to keep cross-country as a “low-risk” activity under state guidelines for a return to community sports. Rather than starting in one giant group, runners began in smaller groups that took off from the starting line 30 seconds apart from one another.

Those starts, Luchini said, are going to be a bit of a learning curve for both runners and coaches as the season unfolds. Yet with timing systems that are pre-programmed to identify each runner’s wave, Friday’s meets saw results tabulated in a timely, orderly fashion.

“I think things went really smoothly,” Luchini said. “The waved starts were a little bit different, but it’s not too bad because we have a really advanced timing system that can recognize your bib number. It’s a lot of extra steps, but it’s something that the computer can work out.”

Select runners will compete in the Festival of Champions at 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 3, at Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast. The race, which typically includes schools from all over the state as well as New England and Atlantic Canada, will be much different year with only Ellsworth, Bucksport, MDI, GSA, Deer Isle-Stonington, Belfast, Bangor, Brewer, Hampden Academy, Old Town and Orono competing.

“It’s going to have a much more local feel to it,” Luchini said of the race, which will shrink from a 1,644-runner field last year to 140 this year. “You’re talking one of the biggest races there is, and it’s going to be way smaller. It’ll be a new experience.”

Mike Mandell

Mike Mandell

Mike Mandell is the sports editor at The Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander. He began working for The American in August 2016. You can reach him via email at [email protected]

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