Hannah Saunders’ senior cross country campaign was excruciatingly frustrating.
The Caribou High School standout struggled through the season, battling hip tendinitis, which prevented her from fully driving her arms.
But Saunders was far from frustrated at Saturday’s Penobscot Valley Conference track and field championships. She not only helped the Vikings’ 4×800-meter relay team to a fourth-place finish and picked up a second place in the 3,200 meters, but she also breezed to a conference record in the 1,600-meter race walk.
Saunders, the defending Class B state champion in that event, posted a time of 7 minutes, 40.67 seconds, annihilating the 2003 mark set by Mahla Stewart by 19 seconds.
Saunders was a tad apprehensive during the preseason that her hip problems would arise once again this spring, but physical therapy and rest did their jobs.
“I was scared going into track because I really wanted to race walk since I won states last year,” she said. “I was scared my hip would prevent me, but it healed over the winter.”
Saunders attended physical therapy sessions during the fall at Cary Hospital in Caribou, where she did ultrasound-type therapy and stretching which helped her regain her strength.
“It’s really nice to be able to prove myself again after the hip injury,” Saunders said.
Especially after a tough cross country season.
“Cross country was definitely very frustrating, I really wanted to be able to do good my senior year in cross country,” she said. “Cross country’s my favorite [sport] but I like [being able] to come back here and be able to prove myself again.”
Healthy hips are certainly essential in the race walk, an event which puts emphasis on hip movement while keeping one’s legs straight throughout the race.
Saunders benefited from a longer recovery between the 4×800 and the race walk Saturday, with the hurdle and dash trials occurring before the event, as opposed to in the regular season where the race walk directly follows the 4×800.
“I felt really good [Saturday],” she said. “I had a lot of recovery today [because of] the hurdle and 100 [trials], so I had more time in between the two races than I usually do.”
Saunders and Bangor junior Casey Pray were stride-for-stride for the first lap until Saunders put the hammer down near the halfway point.
“It’s nicer when I have somebody right with me, [Pray] stayed with me for the first lap,” Saunders said. “It’s nice to have somebody to go against for the first lap for sure.”
Caribou has had a tradition of fine race walkers over the years — Saturday’s boys race was won by Vikings’ junior Finn Bondeson — and it’s one Saunders is proud to be a part of.
“I like to do race walk as well as a lot of long distance events because I like to prove that race walking can be competitive,” she said.
Saunders is hopeful she’ll retain her status as the top race walker in Class B at this weekend’s state championship meet at Mount Desert Island.
Ruginski to UMaine
The University of Maine has landed yet another one of the state’s prominent track and field stars.
Jamie Ruginski, who has had an outstanding senior campaign for Bonny Eagle in Buxton, recently signed a National Letter of Intent to compete for the Black Bears this fall.
Ruginski, who helped lead the Scots to the 2006 Class A indoor state title his sophomore season, was a triple winner at the state championships last winter, running away with the 55 hurdles and long and triple jumps.
In addition, he captured the state pentathlon championship over the winter and was also crowned New England champion in the long jump with a leap of 22 feet, 7¾ inches.
Ruginski joins a talented group of Maine athletes who have chosen to run for the Black Bears, including Whitney Chamberlain of Scarborough, Danielle Hutchins, Tucker Smith and Derek Rothenheber of Mount Desert Island, and Shelby Tuttle of Waterville.