ELLSWORTH, Maine — If the first races are any indication, this cross-country season is going to be one to remember.
Old Town junior Dacie Manion, John Bapst of Bangor sophomore Gabe Stewart and girls and boys squads from Caribou High got their campaigns off to fine starts at the Ellsworth Invitational Saturday afternoon.
Manion outkicked a pack of the region’s other top runners to win the individual girls crown in 18 minutes, 13.38 seconds over 2.75 miles while Stewart ran away from a competitive field to win in 14:54.16.
Caribou’s girls rallied in the later portion of the race to post a narrow 58-62 win over John Bapst while Presque Isle and Ellsworth tied for third with 80 points apiece.
The Wildcats were awarded third place on the sixth-runner tiebreaker; MDI scored 94 to round out the top 5.
The Caribou boys, the reigning Eastern Maine Class B champions, got their title defense off to a strong start with a 35-60 triumph over Ellsworth.
Presque Isle finished third with 107 points, followed by Sanford’s 109 and John Bapst’s 173.
In the girls meet, the race got off to a bit of a tactical start, with Ellsworth’s Brianne Dunn leading the way, followed by Mary Jo Sheehan and Dayna Michaud of Caribou, with Foxcroft Academy’s Chelsie Oldfield, Manion and Alecia Palmer of Presque Isle close behind in the chase pack.
As the runners started their second lap around a big, flat field, Oldfield pulled into the lead with Manion and Palmer close behind, but just over two miles in, Manion emerged from the woods with a five-stride lead on Palmer.
That margin increased as the race wound down, and Manion, who did some hiking in Colorado as part of her summer training, came away with the win while Palmer was second in 18:17.96.
In the team competition, Michaud and Sheehan, who finished 4-5 for Caribou, helped pave the way for the Vikings’ victory, but it was the pack power behind them that enabled coach Thomas Beckum’s club to overcome Bapst.
The 3-4-5 runners — Kendra Stephens, Laura Collins and Katie Plourde — made up some solid ground on Bapst’s No. 4 and 5 runners, overtaking them in the final mile to give the Vikes enough points for the victory.
Other top-10 finishers included Jill Porter of Sanford in third, Bapst’s Mary Carmack and Kim Spencer in sixth and seventh, respectively, Mackenzie Curtis of MDI in eighth, Ellsworth’s Dunn in ninth, while FA’s Oldfield came in 10th.
The boys individual race wasn’t quite as dramatic, as Stewart took the lead right from the gun and never relinquished it.
He was followed closely by Caribou’s Christian Sleeper and Finn Bondeson, along with Ben Chapman of Ellsworth, early on, but the tall, lanky Stewart took advantage of his height and lengthened his stride on some of the downhills in the woods, enabling him to stretch his lead out.
In the team ranks, Caribou made a bold statement that it’ll be tough to knock them off the Class B pedestal this fall.
Sleeper and Bondeson finished 2-3 while Tim Freme and D.J. Flynn captured fifth and sixth for coach Roy Alden’s Vikings, with Jake Michaud wrapping up the scoring with a 19th-place effort among scoring runners.
Ellsworth’s Chapman wound up fourth while Philip Lenhardt of Sanford finished seventh, Matt Guiod of Mattanawcook of Lincoln eighth, Kevin Connolly from Central in Corinth ninth and Lyle Stephenson from Ellsworth 10th.