BLUE HILL — After opening the season on a difficult course in Aroostook County, a setting closer to home gave Louie Luchini’s Ellsworth cross-country team a bit of a reprieve.
On Sept. 12, the Eagles began their 2019 campaign on a hilly, open-air course in Presque Isle. With the wind blowing and grass all throughout the 3.1-mile stretch, the race to the finish line was, by cross-country standards at least, a slow one.
When the Eagles competed in their second meet of the year Friday, though, they did so on a Blue Hill course that had none of the aforementioned challenges. With a dirt track covering much of the course, a flat terrain and no wind in their faces, this environment required runners to take a much different approach.
“Presque Isle is brutal, and then you come here, and it’s just completely different,” Luchini said. “It’s flat, and you’re going to get a lot of fast times.”
Such was certainly the case in Friday’s George Stevens Academy Invitational, which drew runners from Ellsworth, GSA, Bucksport, Mount Desert Island, Deer Isle-Stonington and Searsport. Even as the waning New England summer cranked out one last hot day, competitors from all six schools posted fasted times on and around the Blue Hill Fairgrounds track.
The meet began with the girls’ race, which GSA freshman Thea Crowley won with a time of 19 minutes, 21 seconds. Her time was 31 seconds faster than that of the second-place finisher, Ellsworth senior Caitlin MacPherson.
“We knew Thea was fast because she ran against some of the best runners from Orono in her last meet and was right there with them,” GSA head coach Todd Eckenfelder said. “Even as a freshman, she’s the full package already. She’s pretty competitive, too.”
The girls’ team event, though, went to MDI. The post-race awards ceremony was a sea of green uniforms with the Trojans’ Katelyn Osborne, Grace Munger, Olivia Johnson, Callan Eason, Rachelle Swanson taking places 3-7 and Cassidy Hanscom and Piper Soares finishing ninth and 10th, respectively. Ellsworth finished with 46 points to take second, and GSA recorded 87 to place third.
On the boys’ side, both the individual and team competitions came down to the wire. The race for first was decided by a mere three seconds with Ellsworth Nick Cormier (16:41) beating out GSA’s Sol Lorio (16:44), and the team event saw GSA finish with 38 points to top Ellsworth’s 42 and MDI’s 48 in a close battle.
“There are some really good runners in Hancock County right now, and I think we saw that in both races,” Luchini said. “Some of those races to the finish went all the way down to the finish line, and there were runners from every school who did well.”
For Bucksport, Micah Hileman placed eighth in the 64-runner field with a time of 17:30. Henry Penfold of Deer Isle-Stonington finished in 18:10 to place 16th.
In all, 38 runners surpassed the 20-minute mark. Even on an ideal course for such fast times, the sheer quantity of remarkable performances surprised even the host team’s head coach.
“When we get together every week, we set goals and ask our kids what kind of times they want to run,” Eckenfelder said. “I think every one of our top runners exceeded what their goals were, so I couldn’t be happier.”
With runners from every school but Sumner competing, the event was a preview of sorts for next month’s Hancock County championships. Although that meet will be held in Sullivan, competing against fields similar to what they’ll face in three weeks’ time has at least given these runners ideas of what they’ll be facing when that time comes.
“It is pretty much going to be the same teams, and it’ll be interesting to see who gets faster and who stays the same,” Eckenfelder said. “This time of year, every team out there knows they have work to do to improve.”