The timing of the Open New England Cross Country championships was impeccable for Corey Conner.
After the University of Maine junior won her second straight New England individual crown in leading coach Mark Lech’s Black Bears to a fourth-place team finish, she took advantage of the long Columbus Day weekend and headed from Franklin Park in Boston to her hometown of North Townsend, Mass., for a well-deserved break.
“That was just awesome,” Conner said. “I’m the type of person that gets homesick really easily. That whole race I was looking forward to going home to my family for a couple days.”
Conner was the lone runner to break the 17-minute mark in the 5-kilometer race, completing the course in 16 minutes, 54 seconds in a race that was similar to that of last fall.
“There were a few of us that broke out right from the get-go, I paced with the front-runners for a while there,” said Conner.
That lead pack included sisters Caroline and Jillian King of Boston College, who have been two of Conner’s top competitors in the Northeast the last couple of seasons.
“That’s who I was running with for most of the race. They’re just as strong, I like to battle with them,” Conner said.
Conner wound up taking the lead roughly two miles into the race, and gradually pulled away when neither of the Kings made a move.
“I realized that the girls behind me weren’t really reacting to that, so I was like, alright, I guess I’ve got to go now,” said Conner.
Conner’s winning effort coupled with a 13th-place run from Jordan Daniel and a 28th-place effort from Corey’s sister Allison Conner enabled the Black Bears to finish fourth behind BC, Connecticut and Middlebury.
“That’s probably the best part,” Conner said, “we were aiming for top-5 but that’s one of those far-reaching goals. We were just stoked, it was such a surprise. Looking back, everyone worked their butt off. We had a lot of great individual performances that day.”
Conner and the Bears will have a week off from racing this weekend as they prepare for the America East championships on Oct. 23, also at Franklin Park. It will be the third time Maine has raced on that course this fall.
“We’re pretty familiar with the course now. It’s pretty fast but tricky,” Conner said.
Like teammate Riley Masters, Conner had a lengthy spring track season that concluded with the NCAA East Preliminary meet in late May, so once the summer started, Conner was looking forward to a bit of a break.
“After the season was done I felt really tired, Mark gave me a couple weeks off, I did absolutely nothing for three weeks,” said Conner, who enjoyed some time with her family on Cape Cod during that stretch.
Once her workouts resumed, Conner took it easy while training with her sister once in a while, knowing that the tougher workouts wouldn’t commence until she arrived back on the Orono campus in August.
“You really don’t have any true cross country workout until you get back to campus and Mark (Lech) kicks your butt,” Conner said.
While she’s looking forward to the remainder of the season, Conner is taking things one race at a time.
“All I’m focused on is America East and two weeks of training to get ready for that,” she said. “Hopefully our team can build on what we did at New England’s and get ready for America East.”
The Black Bears will be one of the team favorites in the women’s race at that meet.
“I think this year we definitely have a shot at coming home with some type of medal,” Conner said.
Also at the New Englands, two Maine natives were key factors in the winning effort for the Dartmouth men’s squad.
Brunswick native Will Geoghegan and Ellsworth’s Corey DeWitt were the No. 3 and 4 runners, respectively, four the Big Green in the 8K race.
Geoghegan finished 35th overall in 25:29 and DeWitt 40th in 25:33.
Big meets on tap this weekend
Championship season gets under way in high school cross country this season, with meets in Augusta and Bangor on Saturday.
The KVAC teams will hold their championship meet at Cony High School starting at 11 a.m. while the PVC squads will hold theirs at the Dorothea Dix field, starting at noon.
The Hampden Academy boys, the defending KVAC Class B champs, are favored for repeat, led by top runner Evan Piccirillo, while the Brewer girls, paced by Michelle Haluska and Sara Chavarie, will contend for a top-5 spot in Class A.
The Caribou boys and John Bapst girls, fresh off dynamite performances at the Festival of Champions (the Vikings were fourth and Crusaders second) are favorites in that meet.
Both of those squads are defending regional champions in Class B.