Speed, depth, teamwork mark MDI’s run to third straight girls’ cross country state title

Mount Desert Island runners Waylon Henggler (321), Isabel Erickson (319) and Maggie Painter (323) compete during the state Class B cross country championships on Saturday in Cumberland.
Mount Desert Island runners Waylon Henggler (321), Isabel Erickson (319) and Maggie Painter (323) compete during the state Class B cross country championships on Saturday in Cumberland.
Posted Nov. 06, 2013, at 12:36 p.m.

BAR HARBOR, Maine — The Mount Desert Island girls’ cross country team faced its share of adversity during the 2013 season.

That was perhaps most pronounced during the team’s biggest race, the Class B state championship meet.

Top seed Maggie Painter was making a gallant effort to bounce back from pancreatitis, which had sidelined her during the Penobscot Valley Conference and Eastern Maine championships, while freshman Emma Strong, who finished eighth overall and fifth among the Trojans at the Eastern Maine meet, was out of action at states due to a hamstring injury.

But coach Desiree Sirois’ squad had more than enough depth among its varsity contingent to remain dominant through all postseason challenges.

“We have an incredibly deep team,” said Isabel Erickson, one of three seniors who led MDI to its third consecutive Class B state championship Saturday at the Twin Brook Recreation Area in Cumberland.

“I know last week at (Eastern Maine) I was watching everyone cross the finish line and I couldn’t believe it. I don’t know why, I guess it’s just because everybody on this team is so hardworking and so tough and so fast and such smart racers you know that if anything happens to somebody, there’s always going to be somebody or two people to step up.”

MDI scored 49 points at the state meet, well ahead of second-place Freeport (90).

The unsung boost for the Trojans at states came from Erin White, one of four freshman on the squad. White, who ran seventh for the Trojans at their regional, moved up to fifth on the team and 22nd overall as MDI’s final scoring runner at the state meet behind Erickson (third), junior Waylon Henggeler (fourth), freshman Lydia Dacorte (sixth) and junior Caroline Driscoll (19th).

“As soon as we met the freshmen and started working with them this year, I knew I couldn’t have asked for a better group to work with,” said Henggeler. “They’ve all worked extremely hard, they’ve all tried their hardest, and it’s been awesome. They’ve all adapted really well and it’s been a really, really great year.”

Perhaps the biggest adjustment facing the freshmen — Dacorte, White, Strong and Eli Hinerfeld — when they joined the program in August involved the strategic side of the sport.

“They taught us a lot about pacing and pack running and showed me as an individual how to run a race,” said Dacorte. “It’s hard to put words to it, but we just go out and do it with spirit, and that comes from all the training we do and from being together.”

During the season the Trojans often raced in three mini packs, with runners supporting each other mentally while pushing each other physically.

“It really, really helps to have someone else in your pace group right there,” said Henggeler, “because even if you’re feeling terribly and feel like you’re going really, really slow usually if someone else is there with you then you’re actually not, and your teammate can help pull you along.

“But even if they’re not right there you know they’re not far away to support you and want the best for you. It doesn’t even matter how well you do, knowing they’re always going to be there for you can help you run faster.”

Such support helped Isabel Erickson — who along with twin sister Olivia Erickson and Painter are the lone seniors on this year’s squad — to her strong finish at the state meet where she trailed only race winner Kirstin Sandreuter of host Greely High School and runner-up Aleta Looker of Ellsworth.

“In the last three-quarter mile of the race or so I was not feeling it, because when you run a race hard it always hurts bad,” said Isabel. “And then Waylon came up behind me and we ran the last part of the race together and I just knew running next to her that I couldn’t let her down and I couldn’t let the team down. I stuck with her and it helped.”

The team also was boosted by Painter, who while unable to add to the Trojans’ scoring effort at states with her 51st-place finish proved to be a considerable source of motivation just by competing despite her late-season health issues.

“She is so inspiring,” said Erickson. “I really wanted her to be able to run and was so glad she was able to finish the race. She was hurting so bad at the end but she’s so tough, probably the toughest person I’ve ever met.”

Such teamwork has been a key underlying factor in MDI’s dominance of the girls’ cross country scene over the last three years — a run that has included three state championships, three PVC titles, the 2013 Eastern B crown and three straight victories at the state’s biggest regular-season event, the Festival of Champions in Belfast.

And with just three of this year’s top nine runners graduating, the Trojans are likely to contend for all those titles again next fall.

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