ELLSWORTH, Maine — Dacie Manion underwent an interesting training experience this summer.
The Old Town High School junior took six weeks off from running and did some hiking with her family in Colorado, which she figured would help with discipline and toughness in her mentally challenging sport.
So far, so good, as Manion outkicked a pack of some of the region’s top runners Saturday to win the individual girls title in 18 minutes, 13.38 seconds at the season-opening, 2.84-mile Ellsworth Invitational.
In the boys race, Gabe Stewart, a sophomore at John Bapst High of Bangor, won with a different plan, leading from wire to wire and winning going away in 14:54.16.
The Caribou boys and girls went on to win the team competitions, also in contrasting fashions.
The Viking girls moved up late in the race to push past John Bapst 58-62 in a battle of Class B contenders.
Presque Isle and Ellsworth each scored 80 points, with the Wildcats earning third on the sixth-runner tiebreaker, while MDI scored 94 to round out the top five.
The reigning Eastern Maine champion Caribou boys served notice they’ll be tough to beat this fall, tucking four runners in the top 10 en route to a 35-60 win over Ellsworth.
Presque Isle was third with 107, Sanford fourth with 109 and John Bapst fifth with 173.
The girls’ race started as an intriguing battle between 10 runners and ended up a clash between two.
Ellsworth’s Brianne Dunn jumped out to the early lead on her home course, with Mary Jo Sheehan and Dayna Michaud of Caribou close behind, and Foxcroft’s Chelsie Oldfield, OT’s Manion and Alecia Palmer of Presque Isle among those in the chase pack.
At the start of the second lap, Oldfield had moved into the lead with Manion and Palmer still right there, but Manion emerged from the woods with a five-stride lead on Palmer and never let up.
“My strength is the hills so that was my point to pick it up,” said Manion, speaking of a small climb in the woods that is the lone uphill on this flat course.
“I did my best to pass them and [Palmer] was breathing down my neck from there.”
But Manion’s lead kept increasing slightly, and she crossed the finish line unchallenged.
That was mainly thanks to her remaining patient throughout the race, and not trying to run at Dunn’s speed early on.
“I had some problems with that last season,” admitted Manion. “If you let people push you too much, then you tire out quickly.”
In the team race, Michaud and Sheehan powered Caribou with a 4-5 overall finish, but it was Nos. 3-4-5 runners Kendra Stephens, Laura Collins and Katie Plourde who made up some ground late and pushed the Vikings past the Crusaders.
“It was pretty exciting. We did really good as a team, our pack time was really good,” said Michaud. “I think we’re just going to keep getting better.”
Sheehan hopes the race is a good gauge for the season.
“I think it’s a good start. I think that all the girls are really pumped up,” she said.
Also finishing in the top 10 overall were Jill Porter of Sanford in third, Mary Carmack and Kim Spencer of Bapst in fifth and sixth, Mount Desert Island’s Mackenzie Curtis in eighth, Ellsworth’s Dunn in ninth and FA’s Oldfield in 10th.
In the boys’ race, Stewart also outdueled some of his top Eastern Maine brethren in Finn Bondeson and Christian Sleeper of Caribou and Ellsworth’s Ben Chapman, but he was never really challenged after the first mile, during which he clocked a 5:19 split.
“Ben Chapman, my goal was to beat him this race on his home course,” said Stewart.
Stewart took advantage of his lanky frame to widen his lead in the woods, even though the course hampered his stride slightly.
“It was really muddy in the woods,” he said. “There was kind of a downhill water stream, and just a bunch of mud.”
Stewart was fairly surprised that Bondeson, Sleeper or Chapman didn’t try to stick with him throughout the race.
“I didn’t know how close they were because I didn’t want to look back,” Stewart said.
“They’re definitely going to get better,” he added.
Caribou, armed with one of the region’s best front packs, used that to its advantage again, as Sleeper and Bondeson finished 2-3, followed by Tim Freme and D.J. Flynn — Flynn was running his first cross country race — in sixth and seventh, respectively.
Jake Michaud was 19th among scoring runners to round out coach Roy Alden’s scorers.
Other top-10 finishers included Philip Lenhardt of Sanford in seventh, Mattanawcook of Lincoln’s Matt Guiod (eighth), Central of Corinth’s Kevin Connolly (ninth) and Lyle Stephenson of Ellsworth (10th).
Sarah Dickens of John Bapst and Derek Hawes of Ellsworth won the JV races.