Around the 207 with Sam Bonsey Week #1

The cross country season is finally here and already we've seen some impressive team wins at competitive early-season meets, and some spectacular individual performances. Let's take a look at the some of the highlights from the start of the 2017 season.

Mt. Ararat sophomore Lisandro Berry-Gaviria opened his season with a win at the Laliberte Invitational back on August 25 at Cony High School in Augusta. Berry-Gariva covered the 2.4-mile course in 13:45.25, nearly 20 seconds ahead of runner-up finisher, Dominic Sclafani of Oxford Hills (14:04.31). In just his first race of the season, Berry-Gariva has already shown he's more fit than he was in 2016. His 13:45 was 24 seconds faster than when he ran last year, and also sits as the 10th-fastest time in meet history since they changed the course to 2.4 miles back in 2011. He followed up with another win at the hilly Mt. Blue course, cruising to a fine time of 17:17 -- the second-fastest time in course history. Mt. Blue is regarded as one of the toughest courses in the state, and it took 18 seconds off what he ran at the meet last year. He is quickly emerging as a Class A individual title favorite in 2017. Berry-Gaviria's first place at Laliberte helped lead Mt. Ararat to a win as the Eagles placed four in the top-20 and five in the top-30 to scored 78 points, 14 ahead of runner-up Mt Blue (92).Sclafani has to be very confident after his result at Laliberte. After finishing 20th at the Class A North Regional and 59th at the State Championships, the senior has already blossomed into one of the top runners in the Northern Region. Less than a week after Laliberte, Sclafini finished a close second to Waterville's Nick Dall at Maranacook High School, running 17:58 for 5k to Dall's 17:51. Expect Sclafini to be in contention for a regional title in 2017.

On the girl's side, Katherine Leckbee helped Mt. Ararat sweep the individual races at Laliberte, as she won the girls' race in 15:34.60, pulling away from Edward Little's Jillian Richardson who was 10 seconds back in 15:44.80. Both athletes broke into the top-5 for fastest times in course history (Leckbee 3rd, Richardson 4th). Leckbee has been a perennial favorite in Class A since her freshmen year, and it won't be any different in 2017. After finishing 3rd in 2016, Leckbee looks poised to make another run at an individual title. You can put Richardson in that group of runners looking for an individual title in 2017. After a solid 2016 campaign where she finished 3rd at the KVAC Championships and 6th in the Northern Regional Championships, Richardson appears to have made a leap in her fitness over the summer and will contend for a high finish. Team wise, the Gorham girl's looked very impressive as the took the meet scoring just 39 points, getting top-10 finishes from Iris Kitchen (4th, 16:34.38), Anna Slager (5th, 16:48.97) and Katie Tugman (8th, 17:26.02). They put their top-5 in the top-17 overall. Gorham failed to qualify for the State Championships last year, but its top three of Kitchen, Slager and Tugman might be the top trio in the state in 2017 and could lead the Rams to a state title. They are much deeper than they were last year, and Kitchen and Slager are two legitimate title contenders.

Gorham competed at the SMAA Relays on August 31 at Thornton Academy in Saco and there were some outstanding individual performances on both the girl's and boy's sides. Expect to hear the name Sofia Matson a lot over the next four years. The Falmouth freshmen surprised all with a fantastic finish at the Beach to Beacon last month running 39:09, finishing as the top Maine female high schooler, and proved she'll be an immediate threat to win the Class A individual title at the SMAA Relays last Thursday. Matson covered the 1.5-mile course in 8:18, finishing 13 seconds ahead of runner-up finisher Kylie Johnson (8:31). Slager (3rd, 8:32), and Bonny Eagle's Christine Toy (4th, 8:35) and Ami Beaumier (5th, 8:35) rounded out the top-five. Falmouth lost five of its top seven to graduation, but if Malaika Pasch can come back from injury and return to her 2016 form the Yachtsmen will have two individual title favorites and could sneak into the team title discussion. The Bonny Eagle girl's won the overall relay completing it in 45:10, seven seconds ahead of Gorham (45:17) but as far as overall points, the Rams edged the Scots 67-74. Bonny Eagle and Gorham will be the two teams to watch out of the Class A South Region this year.

On the boys' side it was Deering junior Alex Troxell running the fastest time of the day as he crossed the line in 7:14, seven seconds ahead of Massabesic senior Alexander Swett (7:21) in race one. Connor Piers of Falmouth was third in race one in 7:26, but his teammate, John Auer, ran 7:21 in race two to tie for the second-fastest time of the day. Yayha Nure of Deering had the fourth-fastest time in 7:23, with Piers, Aiden Willey of Bonny Eagle (7:30) and Tristram Coffin of Scarborough (7:32) right behind. Troxell's race on Thursday will put him in contention for a Class A individual title, but the others who finished behind him are right there as well. Team wise, Piers and Auer led Falmouth to a win in its first ever SMAA Relays in a win over Deering in what could be a preview of the Class A state meet. Falmouth completed the relay in 37:59 with Deering back in 38:14, and also won points wise, scoring 58 to the Rams' 74. Along with Piers and Auer, the defending Class A champions bring back four of its top seven. Deering brings back three of its top-five from a runner-up team a year ago. Falmouth, Deering, and also Greely, should be the teams to watch in Class A coming out of the Southern Region.

Speaking of the Ranger's, the Greely boys' looked very strong in its opening meet at North Yarmouth Academy. Juniors Matthew Todd and Luke Marsanskis finished 1-2 running 17:09 and 17:20, and the Rangers took seven of the top eight spots to score just 18 points. We are barely a few weeks into the season, but Greely is expected to contend for a State Championship after making the jump to Class A this year. Todd and Marsanskis give the Rangers an extremely potent 1-2 punch, and Caleb Thurston, Jack Gustafson, Trevor Rafford, Sam Wilson and Adam Bruder complete a very deep 3-7 squad. Each of those runners went under 18:40 on Friday. Very few teams in the state, regardless of class have the kind of depth Greely does. On the girl's side, junior Lily Horne of Freeport took the individual race winning in 19:30, 45 seconds ahead of Greely's Carolyn Todd (20:15). Horne's time set a personal-best by more than 23 seconds. After finishing 14th in Class B in 2016, Horne is expected to be one of the handful of favorites to win the individual title this season. The Greely girl's were dominant in victory, scoring just 23 points and putting six in the top-11 overall. Despite losing Katherine Leggat-Barr to graduation, the Rangers appear to have enough firepower to contend for a state title in Class A.

Yarmouth senior Luke Laverdiere started his 2017 season with a dominant win at Cape Elizabeth, covering the 3-mile course in 15:48 finishing more than a minute ahead of Cape sophomore Jack Bassett (16:49). With his win, Laverdiere helped lead the Clippers to a 34-36 win over Cape. Yarmouth got top-10 finishes from Odeh Rizkallah (4th, 17:13), Ben Cox-Faxon (5th, 17:33) and Sammy Potter (8th, 17:45). Led by Bassetts runner-up finish, the Capers also had four in the top-10 (Arsen Scheindel, 6th 17:37; Peter DiNinno, 7th 17:41; Aidan Willitts, 9th 17:47). With Greely moving to Class A this season, the door is open for either Yarmouth, Cape Elizabeth, Wells or Lincoln Academy to make a run at a Class B title.

On the girl's side, Anneka Murrin and Sophia Lauki finished 1-2 for Yarmouth, who scored 32 points to take the meet over Cape Elizabeth (40) and York (48). Murrin covered the course in 18:25 with Lauki 13 seconds back in 18:28. Cape's Lily Gaudrault (3rd, 18:38), York's Kathryn Miller (4th, 18:48) and Yarmouth's Greta Elder (5th, 19:57) rounded out the top-5. Expect to see Yarmouth, Cape and York to be the favorites coming out of the Southern Region in Class B.

Spectators at Bangor High School on September 1 were privileged to see two of the finest runners in Class A face off. Bangor junior Gabe Coffey defended his home course as he covered the 5k course in 16:41.49 over Hampden Academy's Wyatt Lord (17:09.97). Coffey put in an excellent summer of training, running as much as 70 miles a week and this early result shows it is already paying off. Before this season, he had broken 17 just once in his career -- he ran 16:44 at the Northern Regional in Belfast last October. It looks like he might already be ready to break that elusive 16:00 barrier that many Maine boys always have their eyes set on. He's now a serious threat for the individual title in Class A. Lord shouldn't be disappointed with a 17:09 and second-place finish. He's coming off a spectacular sophomore season where he ran 15:51 and finished 5th in a very strong Class A. He's one of the finest runners in the state, regardless of class and will have plenty more opportunities to race Coffey in 2017. Team wise, Bangor edged Hampden 31-34. Those two teams, along with Mt. Ararat and Mt. Blue should be the favorites coming out of the Northern Region in Class A. Grace Iltis (19:54), Augusta Stockman (20:48.29) and Mirando Dunton (21:09.27) finished 1-2-3 to lead Camden Hills to a dominant win on the girl's side. With Greely out of the mix, the Windjammers could emerge as the team favorite in Class B with its impressive trio.Camden put six runners in the top-10 to score just 20 points, easily defeating Brewer (49), Hampden (78) and Bangor (83).

On September 2, many teams in the PVC made its way to Ellsworth to compete in the Ellsworth Invitational. On the the girl's side, we saw a likely preview of the Class C state championships with George Stevens Academy and Orono squaring off. Caribou took the team title scoring 67 points, and was led by Ashley Violette's fifth-place finish (21:06.84). The Vikings will be a contender in Class B North this year. George Stevens edged Orono 72-76 with Eliza Broughton and Mary Richardson finishing 1-2. Orono was led Camille Kohtala's third-place finish. Brendan Penfold of Deer Isle Stonington won the boy's race in 16:40.21, pulling away from Thorin Smith of MDI who was eight seconds back (16:48.48). Penfold should be the individual favorite in Class C North this season after finishing as the runner-up a season ago. This was a great result for Smith as it was his first cross country race ever as a high schooler. If he can hang with Penfold throughout the season, he will be an individual title favorite in the North.