BLUE HILL — With September surpassing the halfway point, the 2021 cross-country season is now in full swing.
Personal records are falling, new goals are being set, and runners, who had their seasons shortened and their state championship hopes dashed a year ago, have big dreams once again. In the season’s latest competition, Hancock County runners descended on a local course to put one another to the test.
Runners from Ellsworth, Bucksport, Mount Desert Island, George Stevens Academy and Sumner competed Friday in the GSA Invitational at the Blue Hill Fairgrounds. The meet was the third of the season for Ellsworth, Bucksport, GSA and Sumner and the second for MDI.
On the boys’ side, MDI’s Sam York (15 minutes, 54.87 seconds) overtook Bucksport’s William Hileman (15:57.16) down the final stretch to win a thrilling battle for first place. GSA’s Clark Morrison (third place, 16:36.21) and Ira Buchholz (fifth place, 17:14.63) and Bucksport’s Gage Bruns (fourth, 17:06.79) rounded out the top five.
Hileman, who won the Penobscot Valley Conference Class C championship last fall and the state 1,600-meter track title in the spring, was unable to compete for a state cross-country title a year ago following the cancellation of the meet. Following that missed opportunity, there’s no doubting the goal Hileman himself and Bucksport head coach Chris Jones have set for the sophomore this fall.
“He didn’t eat lunch today, but those are just little things that you learn from, and he’s still getting better and better,” Jones said. “Anybody in that position wants to vie for a state championship, so that’s ultimately what he’s hoping for and looking at.”
Micah Bryan (sixth place, 17:19.55) and Sol Lorio (eighth place, 17:24.81) made it four GSA finishers in the top 10, which was rounded out by MDI’s Liam McKernan (seventh, 17:21.85) and Tucker James (10th, 17:39.61) and Sumner’s Ren Salisbury (ninth, 17:32.40). Aedyn Hughes (12th, 17:53.85) was the top finisher for Ellsworth.
The meet also featured a competitive battle for the boys’ team title with GSA (36 points) beating out MDI (42 points) for first place. Bucksport (76) took third place, and Ellsworth (95) and Sumner (130) finished fourth and fifth, respectively.
“We definitely have high hopes for our boys this year, and I think they can get even faster,” GSA head coach Todd Eckenfelder said. “I don’t want to set the bar too high because anything can happen — injuries, kids getting hurt — but we have a lot of kids who are still on the upswing.”
The girls’ team title went to MDI, which scored 20 points to beat out GSA (43 points) and make it two meet wins in as many tries this year. The Trojans rode their pack-running strategy to success yet again as they placed eight runners in the top 10.
Thea Crowley of GSA won her first meet of the year as she finished with a time of 17:45.86. MDI’s Amelia VanDongen (18:25.57), AyliGrace Munro (19:57.63), Ella Joyce (20:02.99) and Grace Munger (20:09.44) rounded out the top five.
The meet was the first this season in which Crowley did not go up against sisters Nora and Ruth White of Orono. With Crowley the reigning PVC girls’ cross-country champ and the Whites (Ruth: state 1,600- and 3,200-meter champ; Nora: 1,600 and 3,200 runner-up) coming off dominant track seasons, competitions between the three this fall have been intense.
“If you’ve been around the sport, you’ve known this was going to happen,” Eckenfelder said. “Thea is a once-in-a-generation runner, and it just so happens that Ruth is a once-in-a-century runner. … She’s been enjoying the challenge of taking them on, and it’s been pretty impressive to watch.”
Also finishing in the top 10 of the 36-runner girls’ field were Ellsworth’s Addison Nelson (sixth place, 20:18.59) and Bucksport’s Rebekah Ireland (eighth place, 20:50.42). Ada Fisher (22:45.41) placed 19th to finish as the top runner for Sumner.
As runners reached the finished line, they did so in front of a packed grandstand in the center of the Blue Hill Fairgrounds. The sounds of parents and other spectators cheering on the runners down the stretch were well-received after the silence of last year’s fan-free competitions.
“So many of our fans are parents, and us having them here certainly means so much to the kids and maybe even helps them keep pushing a little bit,” Jones said. “You want that when you’re racing, and it’s so much better for them to have that.”
Runners from all six Hancock County high schools will compete in sectionals Saturday, Sept. 25, at Old Town High School. The girls’ race is set to begin at 1:45 p.m., and the boys’ race will follow at 2:25.