ELLSWORTH — When it comes to stature, track and field is a sport that takes competitors of all sizes. When it comes to numbers, though, bigger is better.
Inclement weather notwithstanding, outdoor track teams all throughout the state are preparing for their first regular season meets next week. As they do so, they’ll be hoping to fulfill championship aspirations in fields that are becoming larger and more competitive.
This season, the number of athletes participating in outdoor track in the Penobscot Valley Conference has grown by nearly 200 students from last year. Teams of 40 athletes or more are becoming the norm, and athletes and teams all across the region are growing stronger because of it.
“We have good numbers all across our region,” Mount Desert Island head coach Aaron Long said. “I’m not sure what to attribute such growth to for the rest of the conference, but regardless of the reasons, I hope it continues.”
Whereas most outdoor sports require athletes to combine their best qualities into a single skill set, track gives them a chance to run, walk, throw, jump or even vault as they please. In order to climb up leader boards, schools have to field large squads in order to cover enough events for the necessary points.
“I think track is one of those sports that has something for everybody because there’s an event that fits whatever it is you’re best at doing,” Ellsworth’s Javon Williams said. “Whether you’re fast, strong or whatever, there’s something that works for you, and you can always try new things.”
Last year, Ellsworth sent 19 athletes to the Class B championships in Dover-Foxcroft. Only two of those athletes were seniors, meaning the Eagles, who have 52 athletes competing this season, are hoping for an even better campaign in 2019.
Emma McKechnie, who competed in the high jump and 4-by-400 relay in last year’s Class B championships is back for the Ellsworth girls after winning the PVC Small-school indoor title in the high jump in February. Elsewhere, sophomores Abby Mazgaj (4-by-200 and 4-by-400 relays), Lillian Frank (4-by-200), Megan Gammill (4-by-400) and Autumn Paul (discus throw) return after competing at states last year.
Williams (100-meter dash, 200-meter dash, 4-by-100 relay and long jump), Nate Mason (high jump, long jump and triple jump) and Matt Shea (3,200-meter run) are among those returning for the Ellsworth boys. Those athletes helped the Eagles claim the PVC Small-School championship earlier this year, and Williams is hoping that success will carry over.
“I think we know from winning PVCs how successful we can be, and it got us even more pumped about track as a school,” Williams said. “I’m telling people, ‘Hey, we can be the best team in Class B.’ I think that’s the mentality we want to have this year.”
Last year, those Class B bragging rights went elsewhere in Hancock County as the MDI and York boys split the state championship with 86 points apiece. In addition Griffin Maristany’s win in the 200-meter dash and a team win in the 4-by-100 relay, the MDI boys finished in the top five in nearly a dozen other events to claim the program’s first state title.
That championship followed a strong 2017 campaign that saw the Trojans place second on the boys’ side and third on the girls’ side at states. This year’s team is young, but state indoor champs Gilbert Isaacs (boys’ shot put), Zoe Olson (girls’ 800-meter run) and the quartet of Olson, Grace Munger, Olivia Johnson and Katelyn Osborne (girls’ 4-by-800-meter relay) are looking to keep the Trojans at the top.
“This year’s boys’ and girls teams are deep like that 2017 team with their potential to cover a lot of events at a high level,” Long said. “However, for the most part, this year’s team is also young and unproven on both sides.”
Track and field is also enjoying growth at the Class C level, where Bucksport’s team of 55 athletes accounts for nearly 20 percent of the school’s overall student body. George Stevens Academy finds itself in a similar spot with 53 students listed on its 2019 roster.
Bucksport’s Carter Tolmasoff took up track last year in order to better tune his body for football season. Doing so is common among athletes who aren’t engaged in other sports during the spring.
“The shape your body is in after the season compared to before the season is a huge difference,” said Tolmasoff, who competed in the 100-meter dash at the Class C outdoor championships last year and was indoor state champion for the Golden Bucks in the 55-meter dash this year. “I’d recommend it to anybody.”
The season is set to begin next week with meets at Bangor next Wednesday, April 17, and at MDI next Saturday, April 20.
Before then, the snow must melt from tracks and infields across the state. After a long winter and a spree of snow dumpings that has now spread into spring, that moment will be a sweet one when it finally comes.
“The weather is definitely making it harder, but you can’t do anything about that,” Tolmasoff said. “You can only worry about what you can control.”