As a sophomore, Old Town’s Dacie Manion was full of potential as she finished eighth statewide among Class B schoolgirl runners and qualified for the New England Cross Country Championships last season.
She returns to the same race Saturday and is running better than ever, coming off a strong third-place effort at last weekend’s state meet in Cumberland, where she covered a difficult, hilly 5K course in 20 minutes, 6 seconds.
Manion will be among 50 of Maine’s top individuals and six boys and girls teams who will represent the Pine Tree State in Manchester, Conn., for the New England Interscholastic Championships.
Manion and the girls will go off at 11:30 a.m. and the boys will follow at 12:30 p.m.
Manion, who won Penobscot Valley Conference and Eastern Maine Class B individual championship honors this season, didn’t complete the New England’s race last fall in New Hampshire, which she attributes to some rookie mistakes.
“It was more of an eating problem, I wasn’t careful about that,” Manion said, acknowledging she didn’t eat enough breakfast before competing.
“It was my first year running competitively, I warmed up a lot beforehand and burned it all off. I didn’t have enough to keep going.”
Lesson learned, Manion trained hard over the summer, doing some hiking the first part of it in Colorado, and discovering that cross country is just as mental as it is physical.
“Last year I got nervous a lot, so I used to freak out a little bit before races,” she said. “This year I have a lot more relaxed approach going into my race.
“I know how to prepare beforehand, eat, sleep, drink a lot of water, that sort of thing,” Manion added.
Manion’s state meet time was impressive, considering she was a tad under the weather, and she actually enjoyed the hilly Twin Brook Recreation Center course.
“I really liked the hills,” she said. “I was battling a cold that went through my house, but did OK. The course was great, I’d love to go back there again.”
Knowing Maranacook of Readfield sophomore Abby Mace, the Class B state champion, was going to finish well ahead of the rest of the Class B field, Manion set her sights on Emily Atwood and Rachel Nichols of Cape Elizabeth.
Turns out she finished right in between them — Atwood was second and Nichols fourth.
“In the beginning, Emily was about 40 seconds ahead of me, I think,” Manion said. “I could barely see her, she went out with Abby Mace and held it for a little while. I think I picked it up a lot throughout the race.”
Manion wound up finishing nine seconds behind Atwood, and she’s hoping to be among that top group again Saturday.
“I’d love to break 20 [minutes], I hear the course is a little bit faster or maybe just easier than some of the courses we’ve been running this year,” Manion said. “Another goal would be to place well among the Maine runners, ideally make it into the top five of Maine runners.”
Manion owes a lot of her success to veteran coach Rod White, who has taken many talented runners to New England competitions throughout his career.
“Rod is amazing, he’s really great, he knows exactly how to prepare us for all our races,” Manion said.
John Bapst freshman Adrienne Carmack, who was sixth in Class B, will join Manion as the other PVC representative this weekend.
There will be a new individual champion, as 2008 winner Abbey Leonardi, a sophomore at Kennebunk, is not running.
The two-time Class A state champion elected to take this weekend off from racing as she is gearing up for the Foot Locker regional meet later this month.
Mt. Blue of Farmington was the lone Eastern Maine girls squad to qualify, fueled by its third-place finish in the Class A state championship race.
Senior Melody Lam also qualified individually, finishing ninth overall, the top Eastern Maine finisher in Class A.
Girls teams from Cheverus of Portland, Massabesic of Waterboro, Cape Elizabeth, Thornton Academy of Saco and Waynflete of Portland will also compete.
The Stags’ Emily Durgin and Fiona Hendry both finished in the top 10 at the New England meet last fall, with Durgin earning runner-up honors and Hendry placing ninth.
Mace was sixth a year ago.
Bangor senior Sam Nisbett was among a couple local qualifiers on the boys side.
Nisbett finished ninth among his Class A brethren last weekend, completing the 5K course in 16:27.
Hampden Academy’s Darik Frye, who finished a strong rookie cross country campaign in Maine with a fourth-place in Class B, will also participate, along with Erskine Academy of South China’s Sam Seekins, Kelton Cullenberg of Mt. Blue and Cony of Augusta’s Luke Fontaine.
Teams from Cheverus of Portland, Scarborough, Greely of Cumberland Center, Massabesic of Waterboro, Gorham and Boothbay Region will represent Maine.