WASHBURN, Maine — Armed with a three-time defending individual state champion and six of the top seven returning runners from last season, the Washburn High School girls cross-country team hopes to blaze a trail to a second straight Class C state title.
Coach Michael Waugh is enthusiastic about the upcoming season after his team won its first meet of the year Thursday with a perfect score of 15 at Greater Houlton Christian Academy.
The key to defending is going to be doing everything right, Waugh said. “Of course we have a lot of kids who do both cross-country and soccer, so we have to work at getting the balancing act right, getting the fundamentals right and keep a positive attitude. If we do those three things right, we will repeat.”
The talent pool of the team, which won its first state championship in 2012, is another reason Waugh pointed to as a reason for success.
“One of the advantages of this team is that we have depth. We have 14 girls on the squad this year so we have enough to field two full teams and everybody is looking good,” he said.
With no seniors on the team last year, the team returns almost everybody. One major addition includes incoming freshman Tori Koch, younger sister of No. 1 runner Carsyn Koch.
“We have several freshmen this year, including [Carsyn] Koch’s sister Tori, who is running well so far this season and should be able to fill that gap quite nicely. She will probably run significantly faster than the girl that we lost,” he added.
Carsyn Koch, the top runner in Class C the last three years, leads the Beavers this fall in their journey to try and repeat, but even as positive as Waugh sounds, he knows the competition will improve and give Washburn a challenge.
“Orono finished second to us last year and have people coming back, so I think Orono is probably the team we have to look out for the most,” Waugh said. “For Western Maine teams, Dirigo, Waynflete, Merriconeag Waldorf — all those schools out of Class C West — are very good and it wouldn’t surprise me if they upped their game, upped their training and tried to come for us.”
Washburn will keep a diligent watch for Orono in its rearview mirror.
“Orono has a good girls squad and I know they are going to be looking for us and we’ll be looking for them. We’re not taking this for granted by any stretch of the imagination but I think we have a good shot at [winning the state championship],” Waugh said.
Four of Washburn’s top five runners on this year’s team placed in the top 15 at last year’s state meet and look to produce similar results.
“Senior Carsyn Koch is looking to do something that nobody besides Abbey Leonardi of Kennebunk has done, which is do the four-peat [win four times in a row]. We’re excited about her opportunity to do that,” Waugh said.
Junior Mackenzie Worcester and senior Carmen Bragg are interchangeable at the Nos. 2 and 3 spots, according to Waugh, with Worcester possessing untapped potential and Bragg acting as a leader figure.
“Junior Mackenzie Worcester, our No. 2, is very strong. In my opinion she underestimates herself, she has a lot of potential, great speed, toughness and strength,” Waugh said.
“Right behind her, our technical No. 3 is Carmen Bragg. Her and Worcester interchanged a lot last year. Carmen encourages everybody and in many ways is really the heart of the team,” he added.
Sophomore Emilia Churchill, who placed 14th at the state meet as a freshman, and Tori Koch, the Nos. 4 and 5 runners, respectively, are the two that people should keep their eye on, added Waugh.
“Sophomore Emilia Churchill, with a 14th-place finish as a freshman at the state meet, the sky is the limit for her. She has a lot of potential,” Waugh said.
“No. 5, the person everybody will probably be watching out for is incoming freshman and Carsyn’s younger sister Tori. Tori has a lot of gifts and is trying cross country for the first time this year but she is already showing the signs of being a great distance runner and be helpful to the team,” he added.
Other factors may also determine Washburn’s success.
“We’re trying to make sure we do injury prevention, get everybody the right mileage and do everything right,” Waugh said.
That will be a challenge, especially since several of the cross-country runners also play on the Beavers’ soccer team. Washburn is the defending Eastern Maine Class D champion after making its first trip to the state title game last fall.
An earlier version of this story requires correction. Michael Waugh, not Richard Hartford, is the coach of Washburn High School’s girls cross-country team.