PRESQUE ISLE — The Ellsworth girls’ cross-country team spent much of the 2018 season winning meets in nail-biting fashion. The Eagles’ opening meet this year came without such difficulties.
Ellsworth posted a strong start to its state championship defense Friday with a first-place finish in the Presque Isle Invitational. The Eagles placed all six runners in the top third of the field to breeze to victory in the seven-team girls’ event.
Senior Caitlin MacPherson placed third overall in the race with a time of 22 minutes, 11.93 seconds to finish as Ellsworth’s top runner. The No. 2 finisher for the Eagles was junior Abby Mazgaj, who placed sixth overall with a time of 23:10.39.
Caroline Mazgaj (ninth place) Casey Carter (11th place), Sara Shea (13th) and Leah MacPherson (17th) rounded out the field for Ellsworth. Mazgaj, Carter and MacPherson, all freshmen, were competing in their first varsity races for the Eagles.
“I was especially impressed with our freshmen in their opening race,” Ellsworth head coach Louie Luchini said. “Presque Isle is a tough course for a season opener because it’s hills and tall grass the whole way, but they were up for it and ran great.”
With 31 points, the Ellsworth girls finished 44 clear of second-place Houlton and 53 clear of third-place Caribou. Five Eagles finished among the top-10 team-scored runners. No other team had more than two runners finish in the top 15.
On the boys’ side, Ellsworth recorded 58 points to place second in the eight-team field. Nick Cormier finished second for the Eagles with a time of 18:22.86, and Calvin Nelson joined him in the top five with a place of fifth and a time of 18:39.53.
Ellsworth posted its strong results despite multiple runners sitting out the race as they recovered from illnesses. Such is the depth of this year’s Ellsworth team, which returns the bulk of last year’s runners on both the boys’ side and the girls’ side.
“We’re thinking we’re going to be a better team than last year,” Abby Mazgaj said. “We’re not sure how everybody is going to be, but we’re definitely going to improve upon what we did last year.”
The meet was the first of the year for Ellsworth, which had originally been scheduled to open its season with a home meet Sept. 7. Although losing a chance to race at home was somewhat disappointing, the Eagles were happy to have the extra rest as they prepared to head to The County.
“I think not having the first meet helped us a lot,” Mazgaj said.“The course itself was slow, but we were fresh and ready to run. It felt good.”
On Saturday, runners from Bucksport, George Stevens Academy, Sumner and Deer Isle-Stonington runners competed at Bucksport High School. Bangor Christian, Central, Jonesport-Beals, Machias and Orono runners also competed in the meet.
On the boys’ side, freshman Sol Lorio of GSA placed fourth with a time of 17:24.75 to finish as the top Hancock County runner. Coming on one spot behind Lorio was Sumner’s Luke Barnes, who finished in 17:36.68. David Hileman (12th place) and Henry Penfold (14th place) were the top runners for Bucksport and Deer Isle-Stonington, respectively.
GSA’s Thea Crowley was the top local runner on the girls’ side, finishing with a time of 20:11.06. Hope Rankin finished with a time of 24:55.05 and place of 11th as the only runner for Bucksport, and Sumner’s Skye Howard finished 14th with a time of 26:00.10 to beat out teammate Rachael Hastey by 0.52 seconds.
Orono won the boys’ competition with 20 points as GSA took second with 43, Bucksport took third with 90 and Sumner claimed fourth with 106. Only Orono and GSA received team scores on the girls’ side, and the Red Riots earned 19 points to the Eagles’ 42.
Runners from Ellsworth, Bucksport, Mount Desert Island, GSA and Deer Isle-Stonington will be competing in the GSA Invitational at 4 p.m. Friday, Sept. 20, at the Blue Hill Fairgrounds. Sumner will compete at Washington Academy at noon Saturday, Sept. 21.
“It’s totally different [at the fairgrounds] compared to Presque Isle because it’s flat and on dirt, but it’s a fun course,” Luchini said. “It’s a good opportunity for us to keep getting better.”