Photos by Dave Flewelling
By Ryan McLaughlin
Maine's largest regular-season cross country invitational celebrated its 10th birthday in grand fashion Saturday, and while there wasn't any cake or ice cream involved, the ingredients that cross country runners tend to flourish in were in full supply.
Rain showers throughout the Festival of Champions at Troy Howard Middle School produced plenty of shoe-sucking mud, but nobody was complaining, particularly at the awards ceremony when meet director Glendon Rand asked the throng of harriers if its true that runners love the rain.
It was the perfect cap on a spectacular day in which two of the best runners this state has ever seen defended their meet crowns, as Abbey Leonardi of Kennebunk on the girls' side and Matt McClintock of Madison for the boys cruised to victories.
Claiming gold in the team competitions were the Falmouth boys and Mount Desert Island girls.
The stage was set for Leonardi, also one of the top runners in the country, to take down Cassie Hintz's 7-year-old course record, but a perfect effort was needed on a course that had a few muddy sections.
Leonardi did grind out a solid time of 18 minutes, 16.55 seconds, and the conditions made it tough for her to get on record pace.
"I don't want to make any excuses but I think it was difficult to get into a consistent pace," Leonardi said.
Leonardi blasted through the quick opening mile in just over 5:30, and she was just over 11:30 at the 2 mile.
"The first mile here is always pretty quick so I expected that," she said.
Leonardi, arguably the best schoolgirl runner to come out of Maine who won her third FOC race in four years, said she's "probably a little ahead of where I was last year" in terms of conditioning, and is right on pace to make it back to San Diego for Footlocker nationals.
Erzsebet Nagy of Lawrence took second place, and she was joined in the top 10 by Abby Mace of Maranacook, Jaime Thomas of Harwood, Vermont, Ellsworth's Aleta Looker, Bethanie Brown of Waterville, Carsyn Koch of Washburn, Willow Parker of Camden Hills,
Nyajock Pan of South Portland and Camden Hills' Brittany Bowman.
The Trojans won for the second consecutive week and made a strong statement, compiling 104 points while Camden Hills was second with 169.
Falmouth came in third place with 221 points, while Brunswick with 230 and Harwood's 247 completed the top five.
Three MDI runners finished in the top 20, as Maggie Painter (11th), Nora Hubbell (18th) and Olivia Erickson (19th), all sophomores, led the Trojans' pack.
In the boys' meet, McClintock made it look relatively easy in posting a time of 16:08.7, as the Madison senior bolted to the lead right from the gun and never looked back.
"This is the first big meet of the year, you're just trying to figure our where you are," said McClintock.
With the course a tad slippery, McClintock was playing it careful on the downhills.
"I was told before the race not to injure myself, there's a lot of season left," he said. "I was trying to be careful coming down the hills."
The base training McClintock did over the summer, which included a few road races, is starting to pay dividends.
"That set me up to where I could start working on speed for the year," he said. "I'm already where I need to be."
Mike Tate of J.H. Gillis High of Nova Scotia wound up second, while Nick Morris of Scarborough was third, Chase Brown of Boothbay fourth, Tim Follo of Falmouth fifth, Ellsworth's Dan Curts sixth, Alex Bulteel of Orono seventh, Josef Holt-Andres of Telstar eighth, Messalonskee's Harlow Ladd ninth and Cumberland, Rhode Island's Trevor Crawley 10th.
Falmouth, the 2010 Class B runner-up, tallied 136 points to outdistance J.H. Gillis, which had 159. Cumberland, R.I. took third with 176, followed by Scarborough (184) and Harwood, Vt. (303).
Follo's fifth-place finish led the Yachtsmen, but No's. 2, 3 and 4 guys Jay Lesser, Colby Howland and Spencer Brown packed in and finished 24-28-29 to help Falmouth give itself distance from J.H. Gillis.
Despite the constant showers throughout the race, one of the state's top cross country courses held up beautifully, and Rand thanked the administration at Belfast at the awards ceremony, saying that any other course in the state may not have been runable on such a day.