ORONO — As talented as she is, Corey Conner can sometimes be nervous prior to a big race.
But when the gun was fired at the start of Saturday’s NCAA Northeast Regional Cross Country championships, the University of Maine junior knew what she had come to Madison, Conn., to accomplish.
Six thousand meters later, Conner had punched her second consecutive ticket to the NCAA Championships in Terre Haute, Ind., by virtue of her fourth-place run at the regional meet, where she completed the 3.6 miles in 19 minutes, 57.3 seconds. She will race Monday at 1 p.m.
This performance was different from last year’s when Conner became the first UMaine runner since Patty McCormick in 1994 to qualify for the national championship race.
“Last year, I didn’t really have any expectations or anything like that. I wasn’t planning on going to nationals or anything like that,” she said. “This year, it was kind of different, putting myself in the right position from the get-go. I had more of a strategy where last year it was by chance.”
That plan was to stick with Stony Brook University sisters Lucy and Holly Van Dalen and Shelby Greaney of Providence College, and only 19 seconds separated Conner from winner Lucy Van Dalen.
“She went out after it,” explained UMaine coach Mark Lech. “In the past she’s been a little timid in the beginning because she’s so good she could make up that. This year she went out after it and knew that OK I can be there, top 4-5.”
Syracuse and America East team champ Stony Brook finished 1-2 to automatically qualify for the NCAAs as teams, and the top four individuals not among those schools earned berths as well.
Conner’s fourth-place individual finish all but assured her that she would have her spot in Monday’s race.
“She went out with the idea, I’m not going to be the at-large individual, I’m going to be one of the (top) four individuals,” said Lech.
Unlike last year’s regionals at Franklin Park in Boston in which rain had turned the course into a quagmire, Conner was greeted with temperatures in the 60s and sunny skies.
“It was pretty much ideal conditions you wanted for running that day,” she said.
The main trait in Conner’s growth as one of the Northeast’s top runners has been confidence.
“This is an ongoing process with her, because of her background in high school, what she raced against and the training she did, it really wasn’t up to the level of her genetic ability,” Lech said. “Now it’s all been OK, learning about how far she can push herself, how much harder she can go, how well she can race.”
Conner expects Monday’s race, which will be streamed live on NCAA.com, will be a thrash, and getting out strong will be pivotal.
“I expect it to be the same, it’s going to go out really fast. Since everyone is just so good there, no matter where you are in the race, you’re going to be around people that are really, really good,” she said. “You can kind of just hang on to them and work your way up.”
That was the challenge Conner faced last year, having never been in that type of race, but Lech feels she’s running with all kinds of confidence.
“The fact that she knows she can run with the two ladies from Stony Brook and the Providence girl, she knows they’re going to be at least top 25, that gives her a boost of confidence to say they’re going to be there, I can be there, too,” Lech said.
Conner will no longer be in awe when she sees uniforms of top programs such as Villanova and Florida State.
Stony Brook is ranked No. 14 in the country.
“The main thing in it last year it was such a shocker, I’d never experienced a race like that where you’re surrounded by a bunch of well-known athletes, you’ve heard of all those awesome teams,” Conner said. “This year I know what to expect. I know there’s going to be great girls and great teams there.”
Turkey Trot Sunday in Brewer
Brewer High School’s Turkey Trot 5K road race, the last in this year’s Sub 5 race series, will celebrate its 29th running on Sunday.
The race, which benefits Brewer’s sophomore class, starts at 1 p.m., with a kids’ mile going off at 12:30.
The out-and-back 3-miler traverses Dirigo Drive, starting just across Parkway South from Bangor Federal Credit Union, continuing to the end of Dirigo Drive before finishing back near the end of that road.
The course features only one hill, near the halfway point.
The first 300 people to sign up for the race will receive a T-shirt, and the first 75 kids to register for the 1-mile race will also get a shirt, while registration tables will open in the Brewer High cafeteria at 11 a.m.
Fees are $12 for the 3-mile race and $6 for the kids’ mile.
Prizes are a little different than a typical race, as overall and age group winners, along with champs in a variety of team categories, such as first family, high school, club or corporate team, will receive Thanksgiving turkeys.
After the race, folks are invited to stick around for prize drawings, including a cash prize which has been more than $500 in recent years.
A dollar from each participant will go into a stuffed turkey for the cash prize.
Those seeking more information may call Brewer High at 989-4140 and ask for sophomore class advisor Kevin Napolillo.
Peverada earns honors
Hampden native Molly Peverada, a senior at the University of Chicago, was named to the NCAA Division III All-Midwest team.
Peverada helped lead Chicago to a fifth-place team finish at the Midwest Region championship meet in Rock Island, Ill., last weekend, and the team earned a bid to the NCAA Division III championships, set for Saturday.
Peverada finished 25th overall in 22 minutes, 21 seconds over 6,000 meters.