ELLSWORTH, Maine – Steven Melbourne had won cross country races before, just not at the varsity level.
That all changed at Saturday’s Ellsworth Invitational.
Melbourne, a Caribou High School senior, ran a strong, tactical race and used a speedy kick to outlean Foxcroft Academy’s Graham Pearsall at the line to win the boys race in 15 minutes, 26 seconds over 2.84 miles on a warm, overcast day.
“It’s amazing. I’ve never won before,” said Melbourne. “I won a JV race my sophomore year, that’s it.”
Melbourne emerged from a tight pack that included Pearsall, Ellsworth’s Ben Chapman and Caribou’s Christian Sleeper as the race entered the stretch portion.
“I was behind them there in the woods and coach was just yelling at me, ‘go, go, go!’ so I went and passed them. I just didn’t give up,” said Melbourne.
Caribou went on to win the team crown.
Melbourne led a pack of maroon-and-yellow clad runners to a 1-4-5-6 finish, as Sleeper, Tim Freme and Finn Bondeson all cracked the top 10 to power the Vikings’ 35-point effort.
“That’s what we really wanted to do, we wanted to have a really solid pack time,” said Bondeson.
Ellsworth finished second in the 10-team field with 80 points, while Foxcroft was third with 92.
Sanford finished fourth with 98 and Mount Desert Island was fifth with 122.
The John Bapst of Bangor and Caribou girls locked horns in a preview of what should be an outstanding battle in the Eastern Maine Class B ranks this fall.
The Crusaders exhibited formidable pack power, over-coming a 3-4-5 Caribou finish and tucking all five scoring runners ahead of the Vikes’ fourth.
That was good enough to thwart Caribou 56-59.
Three-time defending EM Class B champion and 2006 state champ MDI finished third with 92, followed by Ellsworth with 133 and Presque Isle with 134 among 11 teams.
Sanford senior Vicky Hewey captured individual honors in 17:14. She gradually worked her way through the pack before taking the lead for good just under a mile into the race.
“In races at the beginning of the season, girls [tend to] go out way too fast and the adrenaline gets to them,” said Hewey. “Over the years I’ve realized not to do that so much.”
Hewey emerged from a pack that included MDI’s Heather Spurling, who finished second, Hannah Saunders of Caribou, who was third, and Kim Spencer of Bapst, who captured sixth.
“I didn’t even think about them. I just ran my own race,” said Hewey.
Sanford has been a frequent visitor to the Ellsworth competition over the years.
“We don’t see these girls until states or New Englands, so it’s really cool to see them at the beginning of the season,” Hewey said.
John Bapst won the first of what is expected to be many team battles with Caribou and MDI this season.
“I think the caliber of competition here is outstanding,” said Crusaders coach Joe Capehart. “Caribou is a great team, it was a really exciting race today. I know its going to be MDI, Caribou and us for Eastern Maine.”
Bapst’s third, fourth and fifth runners complemented the 6-7 finish of Spencer, a junior, and freshman Mary Carmack.
“We’ve been working a lot that it’s not any one [runner’s] responsibility to do well, but it’s 1 through 5,” Capehart said.
Freshman Sarah Dickens was the Crusaders’ third runner, in 12th, followed by sophomore Maggie Bryan in 13th and cross country newcomer Laura Donovan, a sophomore, in 18th.
Stesha Rudnicki in 23rd and Tara Nitardy in 36th rounded out Capehart’s lineup.
Other top-10 finishers were Dayna Michaud and Mary Jo Sheehan of Caribou in fourth and fifth, Old Town’s Dacie Manion in eighth, Alicia Palmer of Presque Isle in ninth and Foxcroft’s Chelsie Oldfield in 10th.
On the boys side, the Vikings came up with a pack time — the difference between first runner Melbourne and No. 5 Jake Michaud — of 1:07.
“We stress sticking together as a pack,” Bondeson said.
The fact the Vikings won by as much as they did was surprising.
“I didn’t expect [to do] how good we did. There’s usually a lot of teams here, but we did really well today,” said Freme.
The fact that Caribou’s top four runners train together daily paid dividends, as they fed off each other on the course.
“There’s a training group where there’s four guys that train together in the top,” Bondeson said.
Rounding out coach Roy Alden’s lineup was Robbie Kiehn in 42nd place and Joe Sturzl in 49th.
Ellsworth’s Chapman finished third while Jake Gaudreau and Phil Lenhardt of Sanford came in seventh and eighth, Jason Johnson of Presque Isle ninth and Zack Clarke of Sanford 10th.