Mackenzie Curtis and Jessica Swanson are accustomed to postseason cross country success.
They were freshmen when the Mount Desert Island girls won a Class B state championship in 2006, and have played key roles ever since as the Trojans have also won the last three regional Class B crowns.
After perennial top runner Heather Spurling graduated following last season, many cross country followers figured this might be a rebuilding year for coach Kate Goupee’s team.
MDI seniors Curtis and Swanson, who along with classmate Frances Blank, provide leadership on a varsity squad with two freshmen, showed that the Trojans are contending for another championship run after winning the Penobscot Valley Conference crown Saturday afternoon.
MDI knocked off John Bapst, the third-ranked team in the state in last week’s coaches poll, 50 points to 67, as all five scoring Trojans finished ahead of the Crusaders’ No. 3 runner.
“John Bapst is really good, they have all the stuff, it’s just timing and coincidence that we put it all together,” Swanson said. “We definitely went for the win and tried really hard, all of us.”
The Trojans also showed Saturday that they are peaking at the most opportune time of the season, and in the coach’s poll released Monday, MDI was ranked fifth after being unranked last week.
“We have that pattern where we peak later,” Swanson said. “We’re smart runners, for the most part. We time it right [and] hopefully it just keeps working that way.”
The Trojans have had some bad luck with injuries and illness this fall as Curtis ran the PVC race with a slight cold over the weekend, but toughed out a fourth-place finish to power MDI’s pack.
“That was really the first race that we’ve had all of our runners run well,” said Curtis.
Dominique Hessert and Malia Demers, both freshmen, ran outstanding PVC races, finishing 11th and 12th overall while Swanson in 13th and junior Chelsey Curran in 14th were right behind.
MDI’s pack time — the difference between No. 1 runner Curtis and No. 5 girl Curran — was 42 seconds, and that’s always a key ingredient to postseason success.
“It was fun for us to run an actual championship meet together, and in a big pack too,” Swanson said.
If that’s not enough, MDI’s sixth and seventh runners — junior Kailyn Russell and Blank — were 18th and 19th, so the Trojans’ pack mentality may bring them more championship success at Saturday’s regional meet in Belfast.
“We’ve seen what everyone can do together,” said Curtis, whose voice was still a little hoarse before practice Monday afternoon.
She’s excelling in the lead-runner role which was held by Spurling, now running at Lewis and Clark College in Oregon, over the last couple of seasons.
“It’s really exciting, it’s what I’ve worked for all four years so I’m really happy,” Curtis said.
Even though the Class B field Saturday will be much bigger than that of the PVC meet, with teams from the KVAC factored into the mix, that kind of field is where MDI is right at home.
“I think we do pretty well in big races, there’s more numbers [so] we can push back more of [other teams’] top runners hopefully,” Swanson said.
Down the stretch they come…
It is almost playoff time in high school soccer, and while the Brunswick girls in Class A, and Southern Aroostook of Dyer Brook in Class D have all but solidified top spots, there will be plenty of intriguing match-ups today as the regular season ends.
Hampden Academy entertains Bangor at 6 p.m., and this rematch of a game won by the Rams, 5-2 earlier this fall, has plenty at stake.
Coach Joe Johnson’s Rams are battling Waterville for the No. 2 spot in Eastern Maine, and a win might vault Bangor into that slot.
The two teams split during the regular season, winning on each other’s home field.
Hampden, meanwhile, is in a fight with Edward Little of Auburn and Mt. Blue of Farmington for the eighth and final playoff spot in the division, and a victory could push coach Jeff Ingalls’ team into the postseason.
At press time Monday, the Red Eddies sat eighth with Mt. Blue ninth and Hampden 10th, the three of them separated by only three Heal points.
Mt. Blue hosts Lawrence of Fairfield today while Edward Little meets winless Oxford Hills of South Paris.
Waterville takes on Skowhegan this afternoon.
Presque Isle still has a chance for the top seed in Class B, and the defending Eastern Maine champions will need a win over Fort Kent to have a shot.
Winslow, currently the top team in the division, wound up its regular season last week with a 14-0 mark, and Presque Isle could vault past the Black Raiders if it wins at Class C heavyweight Fort Kent tonight.
That match also has implications on the Class C standings, as the Warriors currently sit second, behind No. 1 Orono, and if coach Kevin St. Jarre’s club can pull out a victory, it’s possible they could slip past the Red Riots.
Old Town all but nailed down the third seed with a point-worthy win over Caribou over the weekend, in which junior striker Katie Deshane scored her 50th and 51st career goals, breaking the Old Town school record.
Deshane’s mark eclipsed Katie Bergeron’s previous record of 49.
Postseason play kicks off Friday, with one preliminary-round game in Class B and two more in Class C.