Balance, teamwork pivotal for Mount Desert Island girls cross country team in defending state title

Mount Desert Island’s Maggie Painter (right) and Ellsworth’s Aleta Looker compete in last season’s Penobscot Valley Conference championships in Ellsworth. Painter is one of five top returning runners for the Trojans this season.
John Clarke Russ | BDN
Mount Desert Island’s Maggie Painter (right) and Ellsworth’s Aleta Looker compete in last season’s Penobscot Valley Conference championships in Ellsworth. Painter is one of five top returning runners for the Trojans this season. Buy Photo
Posted Sept. 05, 2013, at 7:08 p.m.

BAR HARBOR, Maine — Two-time defending Class B girls cross country champion Mount Desert Island High School starts down the road of defending its title Saturday in Ellsworth. Even with all five top runners returning this season, head coach Desiree Sirois is instilling a team-first attitude.

“It is an individual sport, but really it’s a team sport and I don’t focus on one person because in seasons past and in many situations it takes a whole group effort to get where you’re at. Your No. 5 person and No. 7 person a lot of times becomes the most important runner,” Sirois said.

The focus has to remain on the team and not other competitors that are challenging Mount Desert Island for the title, Sirois added.

“I don’t really look at or focus on other teams, I focus on my own team. The focus of our program is not beating the other teams but being the best team we can be to represent our community,” she said.

“Our goals and objectives, individually are to be the best you can be to better the team and work hard, be the best team we can be and focus on ourselves. It’s such a small running community, and we really want to cheer on and support people who are our competitors all around the spectrum,” she added.

Last year’s team finished within 11 places of each other in the state meet with only 34.09 seconds separating the Nos. 1 through 5 runners. Among the returnees, senior Maggie Painter was 11th overall, junior Waylon Henggeler finished 12th, senior Olivia Erickson was 19th and junior Caroline Driscoll was 22nd.

Even with her team’s solid pack time, Sirois says the uncertainty that comes with a long season guarantees nothing. Each member of the team must strive to improve to keep their title.

“We’re two-time defending state champions. I’m not a big statistics person in general. I want this season to play itself out. There are so many unknowns. People exceed coaches expectations on your own team and on other teams, people don’t end up running that you think are going to, people might get injured, and with the freshmen you never know,” Sirois said.

She continued to explain her team-oriented plan when asked about any individuals who could possibly be a surprise to the team this year.

“In any given program and any athletic pursuit, somebody could have a great day or somebody could have not so great of a day and if the whole team is doing the best they can on that day, that makes a championship, not just one or two people. It is a coordinated effort,” Sirois said.

The team’s training program involves assessing strengths and weaknesses to improve individual performances and to help build confidence to form a stronger team. Team commitment is also pivotal.

“You work hard and train hard everyday at practice, and you forget sometimes that it’s a lot more than just the workout of the day,” Sirois said. “There are 22 other hours in the day outside of practice, and it’s a 24-hour commitment to be an athlete. It’s how you take care of yourself, how you’re eating, and how you’re dealing with different pressures.”

At the end of the season, Sirois wants her team to remember the time they spent on the team to be about the lessons they learned and the people they spent time with, state championship or not.

“It’s something they can look back on as adults, that they love cross country. Winning a state championship is great and feels awesome but those other memories are just as important.”

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