BELFAST — Runners pushed through slick mud and soggy trail conditions as they chased down two familiar faces at the Maine Cross Country Festival of Champions Saturday.
Parents, coaches, runners, and fans attempted to stay dry while they watched last year’s winners in the boys and girls events pull ahead early and never look back as they defended their titles.
Kennebunk High School Senior runner Abbey Leonardi posted a time of 18 minutes, 16.55 seconds as she finished first in the girls 5K run for her third title at the event.
“I did pretty well considering the conditions out there,” Leonardi said. “It was slower on the course than I would have liked it to have been.”
The course was soaked by rain that started early in the morning and showers that lasted through out the day. The weather conditions left the course muddied and chopped up due to five races being run on the trail over the course of the day.
“It was very muddy and slippery,” Leonardi said. “You couldn’t get a patch of grass that you could plant down on for more than a second without worrying.”
With the first-place finish, Leonardi earned her third Maine XC Festival of Champions title in four years.
Madison High School senior runner Matthew McClintock, the number one seed entering the event, started off fast and never looked back as he finished first in 16:08.07.
“I wanted to come out flying,” said McClintock. “I wanted to dare everyone to stay with me.”
McClintock added that this was part of his strategy entering the run.
“I don’t have a kick,” said McCLintock. “I try to get out ahead early and use my endurance to win races.
In team scoring, the number two seeded team in each the boys coaches poll and the girls coaches poll finished in first place.
The Mount Desert Island High School girls squad finished first in the girls team competition with 104 points and the Falmouth High School boys finished first with 136. A total of 457 girls and 637 boys competed in three different races — freshman, unseeded and seeded — during the Festival.
Rounding out the top five in the 40-team girls field were Camden Hills (169), Falmouth (221), Brunswick (230) and Hardwood, Vt. (247).
A youth movement paced the MDI girls in their title quest as their first four finishers were sophomores and the fifth a freshman.
Maggie Painter led the Trojans with an 11th-place finish in 20:23.20 and was followed by Nora Hubbell (18), Olivia Erickson (19), Isabel Erickson (25) and Caroline Driscoll (31).
Freshman Willow Parker paced Camden Hills to its second-place finish as she clocked a 20:06.15 to earn an eight-place finish.
Rounding out the top five in the 60-team boys field were J.H. Gillis High School of Nova Scotia (159), Cumberland, R.I. (176), Scarborough (184) and Hardwood, Vt. (303).
Timothy Follo paced Falmouth with a fifth-place finish in 16:39.31 and was followed by Colby Howland (28), Spencer Brown (29), Thomas Edmonds (50) and Conor McGrory (54).
Mother Nature toyed with participants in the girls 5K run as the rain returned during team introductions after an extended period without precipitation.
“There wasn’t really just one area on the course that was rough,” said Leonardi. “It was all pretty muddy but you can’t do anything about the weather.”
The weather appeared to have no effect on Leonardi out of the box as she set a determined pace.
The defending Class A state champion hustled ahead of the pack at the sound of the gun and established a comfortable cushion.
Leonardi didn’t let up on the accelerator as she pushed ahead for a 150-yard lead on the next runner at the 13:30 mark of the run. She retained her lead and finished the race 46 seconds ahead of junior Erzsebet Nagy of Lawrence of Fairfield who posted a time of 19:02.42.
“My goal was to break my record from last year and I missed it,” said Leonardi. “That was a bummer because it’s my last year running here, but it’s OK.”
Rounding out the top five were Abby Mace of Maranacook of Readfield (19:20.88), Jaime Thomas of Hardwood (19:26.04) and Aleta Looker of Ellsworth (19:38.75). Carsyn Koch of Class D Washburn also turned in a strong effort as she finished seventh in 19:59.66.
The boys 5K run received a break from as the rain halted and fans slipped up to the top a hill overlooking the course in an attempt to catch the run.
McClintock relied on a fast start at the gun that pushed him ahead of the other runners. He set a face past as he had gained 30 yards on the next runner by the two-minute point of the run and continued this pace with a 100-yard lead at the 12-minute point.
McClintock’s speed slowed down slightly in the home stretch of the event but he finished 20 seconds ahead of junior Mike Tate of J.H. Gillis High School in Nova Scotia. Rounding out the top five were Nick Morris of Scarborough (16:37.40), Chase Brown of Boothbay (16:38.72) and Follo.
“It was really cool to win last year, “said McClintock. “And it feels awesome to repeat as the winner.
McClintock finished seven seconds behind his personal record of 16:01 that he set at the Festival of Champions last year. The defending state class C champion added that he looks forward to this race every season.
“I love this race,” added McClintock of Class C Madison. “It’s great to see the guys from Class A and B that I don’t always get to run with.”
Ellsworth’s Dan Curts (sixth, 16:44.96) and Orono’s Alex Bulteel (seventh, 16:51.68) also turned in strong performances.