BELFAST, Maine — Cross country seemingly was a more individualized sport a generation ago.
But pack running was a popular strategy Saturday as Mount Desert Island of Bar Harbor, Orono and Brunswick displayed while winning Eastern Maine championships on the 3.1-mile Troy Howard Middle School course.
MDI had seven runners among the top 13 finishers in the Class B race while Orono finished 3-4-5-6 en route to the Class C crown.
And Brunswick won in Class A by winning a sixth-runner tiebreaker over Hampden Academy.
“We have that gradual progression where we continue to refine our skills and identify our strengths and weaknesses and say where do we want to be as a team, where are we now, what do we want to work on and how can we be most mentally and physically prepared for next week when it really matters,” said MDI coach Desiree Sirois, whose team will seek its third straight state championship next Saturday at the Twin Brook Recreation Area in Cumberland.
“It’s a true team effort, a true commitment. If everyone buys in, it’s going to work flawlessly; but if you don’t have everyone buying in, it’s like having two separate teams with two different agenda,” she said.
There was a togetherness about the Trojans in its regional as MDI finished with just 21 points — 82 better than second-place John Bapst of Bangor.
MDI won decisively despite top runner Maggie Painter sidelined by pancreatitis, as the pack time between Isabel Erickson (second in 19:20.76) and Erin White (13th in 20:46.89) was just 1:26.13.
Other scoring Trojans were third-place Waylon Henggeler, Caroline Driscoll (fifth) and Lydia Dacorte (sixth), while Emma Strong (eighth) and Olivia Erickson (12th) completed the winning contingent.
Ellsworth senior Aleta Looker had the fastest time of the day, winning the Class B meet in 18:54.85.
“I had the plan to break 19 [minutes], but I’ve had that plan since my freshman year,” said Looker. “My coach has coached a lot of good girls, but he never had one break 19, so that meant a lot to me.”
Three-time state champion Carsyn Koch (19:30.34) of Washburn won the Eastern C individual title, but Orono’s strength in numbers proved decisive.
Tia Tardy of Mattanawcook Academy was second in 19:58.06, but led by Lily Koffman (third in 20:09:82), the Red Riots secured the next four positions with Koffman followed by Kassidy Dill (20:34.49), Hannah Steelman (20:35.04) and Jordan Richards (21:07.25).
Sophomore Olivia Fendel contributed a 12th-place finish as Orono edged defending state champion Washburn 29-35.
“The Washburn girls are an amazing group of athletes,” said Orono coach Lin White. “We knew we were going to be in a race because we’ve been racing with them for a couple of years, and they’ve had the better of us for most of that time. But my girls came out today; they had a plan, and they stuck with it, and they ran very, very well.”
Brunswick and Hampden were tied 55-55 through each team’s top five finishers, but Dragons’ sixth runner Brooke Escoe placed 26th overall, six spots ahead of her Hampden counterpart, to give Brunswick the narrow team victory.
Lewiston (91) was third, while seventh-place senior Angelyn Masters led Bangor to a fourth-place finish with 108.
Brunswick was paced by the 2-4 finishes of Teresa Murphy and Tessa Cassidy while avenging a narrow loss to Hampden at the KVAC championships.
Hampden was led by third-place Elizabeth Labun and eighth-place Simone Withers.
Freshman Anne Guadalupi of Cony of Augusta won the Eastern A race in 19:05.73.