Running on pavement on a daily basis, especially for high school athletes, can put quite a strain on a runner’s knees and shins.
So some cross country coaches, particularly veteran Hampden Academy coach Dick Balentine, like to take their teams on preseason day trips to places such as Acadia National Park and the Bangor City Forest, where athletes can train on similar surfaces that they’ll be racing on during the season.
“It was a good chance for them to bond a little bit, do something besides run around the roads here,” said Balentine, who took his Broncos to the carriage trails of Acadia on Wednesday, while they trained at Bangor City Forest last week.
Balentine’s Hampden boys had great success last fall in winning the KVAC Class B championship for the first time since the Broncos joined the league along with Bangor and Brewer in 2006. And with a talented returning cast this fall, Hampden could be primed for a repeat.
The Broncos will be led by seniors Evan Piccirillo and Ethan Burke up front, along with classmates Mike Wagner, Stephen Cormier and Carl Hansen.
Junior Andrew Closson and sophomore Nick Kopf should also figure into Hampden’s plans.
The Broncos have been taking it relatively easy the first week and a half of practice. The Warren Bishop Memorial run, which also serves as the team’s time trial, is scheduled Saturday morning on their 2.8-mile home course.
“We just basically do easy miles the first couple weeks, see what kind of condition they’re in,” Balentine said. “We haven’t done anything fast. The first fast thing we do will be the time trial Saturday.”
Winning KVAC’s and a subsequent third-place finish in the Class B regionals bolstered the Broncos’ confidence.
“It helps winning the KVAC and doing well in the regional and state meet. It kind of showed them what it takes to compete at that level,” Balentine said.
Hampden’s boys will be challenged in the Eastern Maine ranks by old rivals Caribou, the two-time defending champion, and Ellsworth.
The Broncos’ girls squad will feature two top senior runners in Alley Becker and Blakelee Jordan. They’ll be complemented by senior Courtney Doyon and juniors Helene Sherburne and Helena Tatgenhorst.
“I think both teams will be competitive, we’ll see how things shake out,” Balentine said.
He added that the Hampden girls’ chief competition will come from Medomak Valley of Waldoboro and Maranacook of Readfield in the conference ranks while John Bapst, the reigning regional champ, and MDI look tough out of the PVC.
In Class A, the Brewer girls will be gunning for their fifth straight appearance in the state meet, and coach Glendon Rand’s Witches have the lead runners up front to earn one of those spots come October.
Brewer, which placed fifth in regionals last fall, has a solid 1-2 punch in Sara Chavarie and Michelle Haluska. Both of those runners are also top-10 contenders individually.
Bangor, which was seventh in regionals last season, will be led by junior Mariah Reading.
Mount Ararat of Topsham is the early team favorite. The Eagles were regional champs in 2009.
For the boys, a lot of the top individuals graduated, including Bangor’s Sam Nisbett.
In the team ranks, Brunswick and Lewiston, which is coached by former Brewer track coach Jamerson Crowley, are the early team favorites while Bangor’s top returning runner is Jonathan Belanger.