AUBURN — Ridiculous regular-season winning streak? Check.
Unquestioned dominion over a conference since the day it moved into the neighborhood? Check.
State championship? Empty box.
The Edward Little High School boys’ track and field team has reaped every record and bagged every banner available in the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference.
What the Red Eddies haven’t done in nine years is hoist a Class A trophy at the state meet. Three second-place finishes in the last five years only tantalized and rubbed it in.
Therefore, this year’s consensus: If EL should give one of its rivals a short-term warm fuzzy with the long-term reward in mind, so be it.
“We have the undefeated streak right now,” senior sprinter and co-captain Taka Ranucci said. “If we have a chance to win states and it means sacrificing the streak, I think that’s probably worth it. We haven’t won a title in a while.”
EL hasn’t lost a regular-season meet since 2001. Coach Ryan LaRoche estimates the number of consecutive victories at 120. Nobody knows for sure off the top of their head.
Since switching from the Greater Portland-based SMAA to the KVAC, seven outdoor conference championship meets have produced seven titles. This past winter, EL even added its initial indoor league crown to the trophy case.
“The seniors all unanimously said, ‘We want to win the state meet. We don’t care about the KVAC meet. We don’t care about the regular season record, the streak.’ We’d love to win one, one of these years,” LaRoche said. “It seems like every time we have a team good enough to win it, there’s that one team that’s just a little bit stronger than us with that one superstar athlete. This is as good a shot as we’ve had in about six years.”
Sheer numbers and depth determine the winner of most April and May meets. To reach the mountaintop in June usually requires an athlete, preferably two or three, capable of conquering multiple events.
EL might have the best of both worlds.
Not only do the Red Eddies boast 11 fourth-year competitors and a roster of 65, they also have the horses: Ranucci in sprints; Keith Tremblay in javelin and racewalk; Connor Harris and Ricardo Hairston in jumps; and Faisal Noor in distances.
“We have a lot of people who are good in multiple events,” said Tremblay, the reigning racewalk state champion. “We want to win that state championship. We’ve been trying to get it for a long time. It really excites us to know that we actually have a huge chance to win this year.”
The high number of seniors is an unusual luxury.
“Most years, you only have seven to 10 freshmen to start with. You’ve got to find kids,” LaRoche said. “Out of those 11 guys, seven of them were multi-event scorers. One of them scored in a relay. The others probably will score this year in the state meet. Not everybody scores at the state meet, so to have that many of them is pretty impressive. And they cover a wide variety of events.”
An additional six seniors are in their third year with the program.
All of them have been close enough to sniff a state title. In 2009, EL entered the final relay event trailing Bonny Eagle by less than a two-point margin. The Scots ran off with the title.
Last year, the Eddies were fourth, only 10 points out of the runner-up slot. They also were fourth at this year’s indoor showcase.
“The captains, we’re all seniors, and we’re just looking at the big picture,” Ranucci said.
EL gains a surplus of athletes from its successful basketball and skiing programs after winter ends.
Add it all up — as one track website has done — and the numbers finally seem to fall the Eddies’ way. Subtracting last year’s seniors from the state meet results, EL is projected to win by more than 20 points this season.
But LaRoche knows there are many x-factors, not the least of which are defections from his own team. One state meet scorer has relocated out of state. Another is expected to move away before season’s end. Yet another elected to play lacrosse.
That could mean shuffling the deck and experimenting with different combinations, jeopardizing those streaks and the bragging rights they bring.
“We still want to win. Winning is winning. It just helps. It feels good. I don’t think it changes whether we’re going to the championship or regular meets,” Tremblay said. “We try hard 100 percent of the time. Whether we win or not, at least we know we gave it our all.”