ELLSWORTH, Maine — Dan Curts is looking forward to letting loose on a cross-country trail real soon.
But what the Ellsworth High School senior has accomplished during the last six weeks at less than 100 percent physically speaks volumes of his current ability and continuing potential.
First Curts won his second straight Class B individual state cross-country championship despite a nagging hamstring injury.
Then last weekend he finished sixth at the 35th annual Foot Locker Cross Country Championships Northeast Regional race at Van Cortlandt Park in Bronx, N.Y., completing the 5-kilometer course in 15 minutes, 39 seconds to earn a spot in the national finals on Saturday, Dec. 14, in San Diego.
“I wasn’t entirely sure how my legs would feel because I hadn’t raced hard many times the last couple of months,” said Curts, one of three Mainers to qualify for the nationals along with Josef Holt-Andrews of Bethel’s Telstar High School and Kirstin Sandreuter of Greely High School in Cumberland Center.
Curts, who injured his hamstring while competing at the Manchester (N.H.) Invitational in late September, opted not to run at the New England interscholastic championships two weeks ago in order to focus his training — and healing — toward qualifying for the Foot Locker nationals.
He also spent time online learning about his Northeast regional competition — standout runners from throughout New England as well as New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Washington, D.C., and U.S. citizens in overseas military installations.
Only the top 10 finishers would advance to San Diego, something Curts knew well after finishing 24th at the same race last year in the aftermath of a bout of mononucleosis that had set him back earlier in the season.
“I figured there would be five or six guys in the front pack who would try to push the pace and move away from the rest of the qualifiers,” he said. “I figured if I could be in 10th place through the first two miles, the last mile I could run pretty hard. I felt like I could be one of the qualifiers.”
As the race unfolded, Curts let a lead pack of five runners surge to the front and bided his time through a hilly, windy second mile before using a late kick to secure his ticket to the nationals — finishing one position and two seconds behind Holt-Andrews, who had gone out with the lead pack.
“I was pretty patient for the first two miles and then stepped it up, and I felt pretty well over the last quarter-mile and finished right behind Joe,” said Curts. “I was real excited that both of us were able to qualify.”
Curts also was buoyed by the notion that while taking a conservative approach to the regional because of his lingering injury, the hamstring did not prove bothersome.
“I don’t think I’m at 100 percent right now, but I’m close enough that it’s not detrimental,” he said. “My hamstring did not affect me during the race. It was nice to finally be back in a race where it felt better.”
Sandreuter, the current Class B girls state champion, qualified for the nationals by finishing 10th in her race with a time of 18:36.
Tessa Barrett of Waverly, Pa., and Mickey Burke of Henrietta, N.Y., were the individual champions at the Northeast regional.
Barrett, a senior at Abington Heights High School, won the girls race in 17:33, while Burke, a senior at Rush Henrietta Senior High School, won the boys race in 15:19.
Curts will leave for California on Dec. 12, and given how his hamstring felt after the regional he plans to take a more aggressive approach to the nationals.
“I’ve had to be cautious in the races I’ve run the last couple of months,” said Curts, who is being recruited by numerous NCAA Division I track and field programs. “But the whole point of next week is not to do that. I kind of want to mix it up with the big guys and see what happens.”