ORONO, Maine — While youth was served in one race, experience and maturity won out in the other as one runner won her debut and another delivered on a four-year-old prediction at the 18th annual Murray Keatinge Cross Country Invitational Saturday morning.
Redshirt freshman Jillian King of Boston College made it 2-for-2 in her young career as she jumped out to the lead quickly and held off the University of Maine’s Corey Conner to win the 5-kilometer women’s race. Later, Russell Christie, a senior from Halifax, Nova Scotia-based Dalhousie University, made good on a bold pro-nouncement he made as a freshman.
“This is my last time to race it, so it was kind of on the line for me today,” said Christie. “I did it two years ago, but I remember telling our coach back when I was a freshman, but not competing with the team, that I was going to win this my last year.”
Christie made it look fairly easy as he outdistanced runner-up David Gereych from St. Francis Xavier University of Antigonish, Nova Scotia, by 26 seconds with a time of 24 minutes, 41.42 seconds — his personal best on the course.
“I just tried to keep out in front of the St. Francis runners because I kind of know them,” said Christie, who finished 14th at the Keatinge two years ago. “After two miles, one of the Maine guys kind of sprinted up the hill to break up our group and I was able to go with him, so then I kept going fairly hard and noticed I was pretty much by myself.
“I usually end up making my move in the middle part of a race and it worked out well today because my last mile was my fastest.”
Christie beat Gereych, but couldn’t keep St. Francis Xavier from winning the men’s team title fairly easily with 30 points to Holy Cross’ 61. The Maine men finished third with 66.
Maine’s top individual runner was senior Miles Bartlett, who finished eighth with a time of 25:47.7. Top runner Riley Masters didn’t run due to health concerns.
“It’s an off and on thing with [Masters],” said Black Bears cross-country coach Mark Lech. “He’s not 100 percent healthy, so I don’t want to push it right now. In the first race, I saw him sprinting up the hill cheering Corey on, so I had to go restrain him.”
In the women’s meet, King ran a personal-best time of 17:09.16 to edge Conner, a sophomore who also ran a personal best with a 17:15.23, and lead her Eagles to an easy meet victory and second straight title with 23 points to runner-up Maine’s 60. St. Francis Xavier was third at 73.
“It’s my second race this year and overall. I won my first one two weeks ago,” said King. “I broke my leg twice last year, skiing the first time the winter of my senior year in high school and then again as a lifeguard last summer.”
Conner’s second-place finish is the highest by a UMaine woman in the history of the Keatinge Invitational.
“I was disappointed because I was so close to getting her,” Conner said of King. “I spent the whole race trying to catch up and I finally caught her, but couldn’t hold on, but I’m happy with my PR and the historical accomplishment.”
This year’s meet lacked some of the top college team talent it has become known for attracting, such as Duke, Stanford, and Nebraska.
“There weren’t as many big-name teams, but I think the times are just as fast and there was a lot of good competition,” Conner said.
Lech said several factors are at play.
“With these power rankings, most teams want to go to meets where you have more top teams so they can improve their own ratings,” Lech explained. “Then there are schools with travel restrictions, like Central Connecticut not being able to go more than two hours outside of campus. There are a lot of things that are conspiring to keep some of the good teams away.”
None of those things kept Robert Morris University away, not even a drive from the campus in Moon Township, Pa., to Pittsburgh for a flight to Washington and a connector to Portland, or another, longer drive that eventually ended in Orono — after a rest stop.
“We try to take some fairly long trips during the season because you have the luxury of taking everyone since you can raise money, and we wanted to make it a unique kind of trip,” said RMU head coach Michael Smith, who ran the Keatinge race back in 1991. “This is one of the meets we wanted to do, and assistant coach Nash Oven spent time up here at a camp, so he said maybe he could make some calls and see if we can stay there.”
The site was Camp Manitou on East Pond in Oakland.
“I was a camper there for eight years and a counselor for 10 there,” Oven said. “Three of our girls have never flown before and none had ever been to Maine before, so we thought this was a great way to make it more memorable, and the girls especially really seemed to enjoy it.”