This track and field season has been a surprise — in a good way — for Riley Masters.
The former Bangor High School star and University of Maine freshman has been burning up the track this winter, most recently at the America East championships last weekend at Boston University.
Running the 3,000 meters for only the second time this season, Masters won the individual crown in 8 minutes, 17.46 seconds, 14 seconds quicker than his indoor personal record.
“I didn’t expect to win a conference championship my freshman year, I’m pretty excited about that,” said Masters.
The leaders went through the mile in a pedestrian 4:39, then Masters ran the second-fastest mile of his life (4:12) and broke 2 minutes for the first time in the 800 (1:59), all in the second half of the race.
“I just came into the year hoping to run PR’s in the mile and stuff but ever expected to run the 3K,” he said. “When [coach] Mark [Lech] put me in it, it was a little surprising. He just told me to go out there and do my best.”
UMaine senior Vicki Tolton broke the conference record in the 400 meters, posting a 54.31, about a half-second faster than the 54.85 Alison Poulin of New Hampshire ran in 1993.
“Her workouts have been going good and she’s been looking really strong all season, so right around now is peaking time, so that’s when you expect their going to break out,” said Lech, whose women’s team finished fifth and men’s team was sixth in their America East meets.
Both Tolton and Masters are gearing up for this weekend’s New England Championships, also at BU, and the ECAC/IC4A championships, at the Reggie Lewis Center the following weekend.
Lech had an instinct Masters could blossom into a sound 3K runner in addition to his reputation in the mile.
“When he ran that 8:31[in the 3K] earlier in January he basically ran the whole last 1K by himself, so I knew that he could go fast,” Lech said.
Masters, who owns a 4:08 PR in the mile this winter, owes his success to faster, shorter intervals.
“Instead of doing like 65-second quarters we do 62-61 second quarters,” he said. “The speed workouts are a lot more intense and the mileage isn’t as high.”
Masters, seeded second in New England in the 3K, has surprised even himself.
“Last year I never saw myself running this fast,” he said. “The first time I broke 4:10, that was a little shocking.”
Also in the men’s competition, James Berry of Orono and Mark Miimakka of Old Town finished fourth and sixth, respectively, in the pole vault.
Both cleared 15 feet, 3 inches.
Like Masters, Tolton had the potential to put up blazing times, but Lech felt earlier in the season she wasn’t going out as hard the first lap of the 400.
“The only thing that was holding her back beforehand was she was a little timid in going out that first 200,” said Lech.
That wasn’t the case last weekend, as Tolton turned a first 200 in the low 26-second range en route to her conference record.
“She’s pretty much been buying into the workouts and it’s paying off for her,” Lech said. “Basically, you’ve got to want to run fast and compete to a high level to do that so she’’ got that.”
Tolton’s America East time earned her a provisional qualifying spot in the NCAA Championships.
She’s currently ranked 22nd in the country, and Lech says she’ll probably have to run in the 53-second range to be among the 16 to 18 runners chosen for the field.
“She crossed the line last week and talked to [assistant coach] Dave Cusano and said there’s more [I can do],” Lech said. “All she has to do is get in the right race and get pushed to that time.”
In addition to Tolton’s efforts, Maine’s 4×800 relay team of Corey Conner, Stephanie Jette, Jennie Lucy of Bangor and Vanessa Letourneau of Fairfield won in 9:18.99 while Letourneau was second in the open 800 in 2:13.80.
Sinclair to represent Maine
The accolades keep coming for Brewer High School sprinter Ben Sinclair.
The Witches’ junior, who owns Eastern Maine Indoor Track League records in the 400 and 200 meters and the fastest Maine indoor 400 time in state history, has been chosen as one of four Maine sprinters to compete on the state’s USA Track and Field All-Star 4×400-meter relay at the U.S. Indoor Championships at Boston’s Reggie Lewis Center on Saturday.
Joining Sinclair are Cam Stevens of Gorham, Dan Roukey of Westbrook and Ben Miklovich of Gray-New Gloucester.