BELFAST — Nearly everything has gone right for the Ellsworth girls’ cross-country in recent weeks — unless trophies have been involved.
Four days after Ellsworth swapped runner-up and first-place trophies with Mount Desert Island following the correction of a scoring error that took place at the regional championships, the Eagles were finally able to celebrate a win at an actual meet once again. It was a joyful moment for the team, which capped off the season by bringing a state title back to Ellsworth.
Yet as members of the team passed the trophy around Saturday, assistant coach Jamie Anderson noticed something odd: The text on the trophy had been misspelled. Rather than accurately identifying the sport in which the Eagles had competed all season, the gold plate had instead been engraved with “GIRL’S CROSS CROUNTY STATE CLASS B CHAMPIONS” by mistake.
“Jamie brought it over and showed it to us, and I was like, ‘Wait, what?” Ellsworth junior Caitlin MacPherson said. “It was weird to see, definitely.”
MacPherson, though, said she and the rest of the girls were too excited following the awards ceremony to care much about the error. After the performance it had produced two hours earlier, the team had every right to be.
The Ellsworth girls’ cross-country team won its first state title since 1978 Saturday at the Class B championships at Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast. It was the team’s third championship win in four weeks after it claimed the Hancock County and Class B North titles earlier this month.
“I thought we had a shot if we ran our best race, which is what you try to work toward every day building up to these championship meets,” Ellsworth head coach Louie Luchini said. “The team was at its absolute best, and that produced good results.”
MacPherson, the Eagles’ top runner all season, broke the 20-minute barrier with a time of 19 minutes, 58.50 seconds and an overall place of third. Sophomore Abby Mazgaj also placed in the top 10 with a time of 20:40.74 and overall finish of ninth.
Trinity Montigny and Sara Shea also recorded strong finishes for Ellsworth with overall finishes of 17th and 23rd and team-scored finishes of 16th and 22nd, respectively. Emma McKechnie’s team-scored finish of 37th (39th overall) gave the Eagles 87 points, three more than second-place finisher Yarmouth.
“Everybody had a really good race, and we knew we had done pretty well,” Mazgaj said. “We thought we might have done it, and then Louie gave us a heads-up when he showed us the unofficial race results.”
In reality, the results Luchini had shown the team were the official ones. Yet after the scoring error that took place at the same location one week earlier, he didn’t want to take any chances.
“I told them they were unofficial, but I knew [we had won],” Luchini said. “It was a good feeling when they counting down the scores because they knew they had it and were just waiting for that moment. Showing them those results and seeing their reactions was just a great moment.”
The start of each race had been moved ahead one hour as a result of inclement weather that had been forecast to hit the Belfast area in the afternoon. Although that weather had yet to hit when the Class B girls took the course, the grass was still a muddy mess as a result of rain throughout the week and the Class A boys’ and girls’ races earlier in the day.
As a result, Luchini had his runners use shoes with bigger spikes to ensure everybody stayed on their feet. With the starting line having the worst conditions anywhere on the course, he stressed the opening stretch of the race as the most important.
“The girls are used to racing in the cold, but we definitely wanted to make sure they could get better traction in those circumstances,” Luchini said. “That starting line was a giant mud pit, basically, and we wanted to nip that in the bud right away by making sure their footing was strong.”
The state title win was the first for the girls’ team in four decades, but the drought wasn’t quite as long for Luchini, who competed as a member of Ellsworth boys’ teams that claimed state championships in 1996 and 1998. Winning this one, though, made him equally happy.
“Our girls just crushed it,” Luchini said. “I’m so happy for them and so proud of what they’ve done all season, and I hope everyone else is, too. It’s a great thing for our school and our entire community.”
As for the trophy, Athletic Director Josh Frost said the school will receive a newly engraved plate to replace the misspelled one. The team will also get a week off before it goes for another at the New England championships next Saturday, Nov. 10.
That meet will be held at Derryfield Park in Manchester, N.H. It was at Derryfield that Luchini finished his illustrious high school running career as the New England boys’ champion, and a return there as head coach of his alma mater 20 years later has now brought his exploits with the Eagles full circle.
“I remember from my high school days that it’s a very tough course,” Luchini said. “It’s wild to think that I ran my last high school race there and that now I’m going there again coaching the girls, but that makes it even more special.”
MDI girls, GSA boys earn 4th-place finishes
Mount Desert Island finished fourth behind Ellsworth, Yarmouth and York in the Class B girls’ competition with 101 points. Katelyn Osborne placed fifth in the 108-runner field for the Trojans with a time of 20:29.98.
In the boys’ meet, junior Matt Shea finished 19th for Ellsworth with a time of 17:27.82. The Eagles finished seventh of 13 teams with 156 points, and MDI placed 10th with 236. York beat Lincoln Academy by six points to win the meet.
Sumner’s Luke Barnes placed third of 114 runners in the Class C boys’ race with a time of 17:25.84, and teammate Logan Carter finished 31st with a time of 18:42.76. Junior David Hileman placed 49th for Bucksport with a time of 19:22.43.
George Stevens Academy was the only local boys’ team to field enough runners to receive a team score. Junior Caden Mattson crossed the finish line in 18:09.38 to place 15th for GSA, which earned 110 points as a team to place fourth behind Maine Coast Waldorf, Orono and Maranacook.
On the girls’ side, GSA’s Tess Williamson finished with a time of 22:25.22 to place 31st and finish as the top local runner in Class C. The Eagles’ Lanny Zentz, Susannah Jakub and Oshi Ragot placed 39th, 42nd and 45th, respectively.
For Sumner, freshman Rachael Hastey crossed the finish line in 24:08.22 to place 60th in the 81-runner field. No local girls’ squads fielded enough runners to receive scores in the team competition, which Orono won with 41 points.