BELFAST, Maine — Bethanie Brown may be forgiven for not following her own race plan at the Maine Cross Country Festival of Champions on Saturday, because it didn’t affect the bottom line.
The Waterville Senior High School senior found herself well ahead of her scheduled pace a mile into the 11th annual event held at the Troy Howard Middle School, but that merely separated her from the rest of the pack sooner as Brown won the girls division of the 5-kilometer race in a meet-record time of 17 minutes, 56.59 seconds.
“I was getting tired in the third mile but I knew I had to keep the pace up,” said Brown, just a second-year high school cross-country runner but a veteran track standout for the Purple Panthers who won the 1,600- and 3,200-meter races at the New England Outdoor Track and Field Championships earlier this year.
“I didn’t think I was going to break 18 [minutes] because I started so fast and thought I had slowed down the last mile. But then I saw the clock at the finish and it said 17:50 so I just sprinted in from there thinking, ‘Wow, I’m going to break 18.’”
While Brown was a first-time festival champion, reigning Class B state champion Mount Desert Island of Bar Harbor won the girls team title for the second-straight year, edging Bonny Eagle of Standish by four points, 125-129, to top the 50 scoring schools in the field.
Camden Hills of Rockport was a close third with 135 points, while Cheverus of Portland (212) and Waterville (271) rounded out the top five among the 50 scoring teams.
Junior Maggie Painter led MDI with an eighth-place finish and the Trojans’ next four runners — junior twin sisters Olivia and Isabel Erickson and sophomores Caroline Driscoll and Waylon Henggeler — finished within 19 seconds of each other in 29th, 30th, 36th and 40th place, respectively, among the 607 girls finishers.
The top nine MDI runners for the day each finished with a personal-best time for the 3.1-mile race.
“They all came with a really, really positive attitude and were excited for the challenge,” said MDI coach Desiree Sirois. “They all ran the best for themselves and their team, it was a team effort. It was a dream that they had and it took a team effort to make it happen.”
Brown started quickly in her festival debut a year ago in a bid to keep pace with Kennebunk’s Abbey Leonardi of Kennebunk, who not only won that race but went on to finish fourth in last year’s Foot Locker national finals and now is at the University of Oregon.
That pace proved to be too fast, and Brown faded to a sixth-place finish.
This year Brown was forced to go out even faster in an effort to avoid getting caught up amid the throng of competitors at the starting line, but there was no fading to be done, only stretching out her lead to a final margin of nearly 32 seconds over second-place Jillian Forsey of Stephenville, Newfoundland.
“I had to get into gear and go at the start, which was a little surprising, but I just used that to get a good lead,” said Brown. “My mile time was really fast, I passed the clock at 5:15. I had planned to have a higher time and keep a steadier pace, but I went with it.
“I did the same thing last year but I did it for a different reason because then I was going out to chase Abbey Leonardi. We came to the mile at 5:25 that time, so I thought I must be in better shape this year.”
Brown’s finishing time topped Leonardi’s previous meet record of 17:58.35 set in 2010, and was just short of the course record of 17:48.00 established by Cassie Hintz of Old Town in 2004.
Forsey, who represented Canada at the 2011 North/Central American and Caribbean Cross County Championships in Trinidad and Tobago, was next at 18:28.41, followed by Erzsebet Nagy of Lawrence of Fairfield (18:33.67), Samantha Cox of Bonny Eagle (18:59.38), Brittany Bowman of Camden Hills (19:03.83) and two-time defending Class C state champion Carsyn Koch of Washburn (19:06.60).