BELFAST, Maine — Just a week earlier, the cross-country course at the Troy Howard Middle School was mired in muck.
Torrential rains that struck the midcoast the night before the Eastern Maine championships had left the 3.1-mile path through fields and woods near the school full of standing and running water.
And that was before the six races staged Oct. 20 to crown regional champions, races that left the course in perfect condition — for a mud run.
“When I left here last Saturday I did not know if we’d be able to host a state meet here this Saturday,” said Belfast Area High School athletic administrator Mark Babin. “It was pretty well devastated.”
But thanks to six days of rain-free autumn weather and the tireless efforts of RSU 20 maintenance and transportation director Mitch Brown and his crew, Saturday’s six state championship races were held at the same location with few signs of the swamp the site had been just a week earlier.
“I was pretty amazed when I saw the course,” said Waterville senior Bethanie Brown, whose winning time in Saturday’s Class B girls race was one second faster than her first-place time at the Festival of Champions meet held on the same course on Sept. 29. “It looks like they had to put an incredible amount of work into the course. The paths were a lot more solid than last time and there was no river flowing on the trail this time. It was really nice.”
School officials initially let Mother Nature evaporate some of the moisture from the course and viewing areas early last week in the immediate aftermath of the Eastern Maine regionals.
Babin said the RSU 20 maintenance crew started its work on the course at midweek and continued the rehabilitation efforts between and after bus runs into the evenings Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
During that time 11 loads of crusher dust and screened gravel were spread on the neediest areas of the course and at least one culvert that had been washed out by the running water was replaced.
Dale Nealey, an earth science teacher at the high school as well as the husband of Belfast cross-country coach JoAnn Nealey and one of the developers of the course some 15 years ago, stayed busy using a roller to pack down the gradually drying surface along the course and in adjacent areas during the week and on race day.
“We needed to spread the 11 loads of fill throughout various parts of the course that were wet just to make it safe and fair for everybody,” said Nealey. “At the state meet you qualify for the New Englands based on your time, so for in order for it to be fair the course has to be as fast for the Class C races as it is for the Class A races and a nice, dry course allows for that.”
Dave Jeffrey, director of both this year’s Eastern Maine and state meets at the Belfast location, had heard about the work being done during the week to repair the course but didn’t get a firsthand view of the site again until Saturday morning.
“After six races last week the course was basically slop,” he said. “We did have a nice dry week, but I’m telling you what the Belfast people did this week to get it ready for the state meet was just amazing, just awesome.
“It’s just the work of people who really take pride in what they do. They want to put on a first-class event and they weren’t going to let what happened last week affect what happened this week, so kudos to them.”
And while no new course records were set at the state meet, many runners — including Bethanie Brown — set personal records for the course that annually plays host to some of Maine’s top cross-country events.
“The conditions were a lot better than they were for regionals,” said Carsyn Koch, a junior from Washburn High School who won her third straight Class C girls individual championship Saturday with a time 47.18 seconds faster than a year ago.
“It was a lot less muddy,” added Koch, who had described the conditions for the Eastern Maine meet as “like running in peanut butter.”
“They did a real good job trying to patch up the course in the places that were torn up, so I just went out there and tried to hit my split times and raced the best I could.”
Nealey said as the repairs made in advance of the state meet settle further it should make the course even better next year.
“We try to do something every year to fix the worst spots, but running the regionals last week just destroyed a good portion of the course,” he said. “It was a mess, a mucky mess, and I didn’t think it could recover like it has, but a week of dry weather and the incredible work by our maintenance crew did the trick. I can’t tell you how impressed I was with them.”
Teams, runners New England-bound
Bethanie Brown of Waterville and Dan Curts of Ellsworth, who posted the fastest girls and boys times of the day during Saturday’s state championship meet, will lead Maine’s contingent to the 78th Council of New England Secondary School Principals’ Association Boys’ and Girls’ Cross-Country Championships to be held Nov. 10 at the Twin Brook Recreation Area in Cumberland.
Each of the three state champion boys and girls teams as well as the next three top teams for each gender as determined by scoring A, B and C divisions as a single meet qualify for the New Englands, as well as any runners not from those teams who placed among the top 25 in the collectively scored state meet.
Boys state championship teams from Massabesic of Waterboro (Class A), Cape Elizabeth (Class B) and Hall-Dale of Farmingdale (Class C) will advance, as will Scarborough, Lewiston and Falmouth.
Schoolboy runners who qualified for the New Englands as individuals were Curts and Robert Looker of Ellsworth, Silas Eastman of Fryeburg Academy, Jack Pierce of Merriconeag of Freeport, Josef Holt-Andrews of Telstar of Bethel, Cam Nadeau of Biddeford, Ben Trapani of Camden Hills of Rockport, Robby Hall of Scarborough, Nathan Madeira of Greely of Cumberland Center, Marc Hachey of Winthrop, Lucas Bourget of Edward Little of Auburn, Josh Horne and Justin Tracy of Mt. Blue of Farmington, Mohamed Awil, Isaiah Harris and Mohamed Barre of Lewiston, Braden Becker of Yarmouth, Caleb Lord of Hampden Academy, Liam Simpson and Peter Doane of Cape Elizabeth, George Morrison and Michael Aboud of Massabesic of Waterboro, Nick Eaton of York, Jack Letellier of Marshwood of South Berwick and Will Shafer of Gray-New Gloucester.
Girls teams that qualified for the New Englands are state champions Bonny Eagle of Standish (Class A), Mount Desert Island of Bar Harbor (Class B) and Washburn (Class C), as well as Massabesic, Cheverus of Portland and Camden Hills of Rockport.
Schoolgirl runners who qualified as individuals were Brown of Waterville, Erzsebet Nagy of Lawrence of Fairfield, Kirstin Sandreuter and Eva Bates of Greely, Nyajock Pan and Casey Loring of South Portland, Jocelyn Acheson and Gabrielle Johnson of Massabesic, Mary Szatkowski, Samantha Cox and Kristen Glennie of Bonny Eagle, Shannon Conley and Kiera Murray of Cheverus, Brittany Bowman and Hannah Brownawell of Camden Hills, Carsyn Koch of Washburn, Charlotte Pierce and Katie LeBlanc of Thornton Academy of Saco, Tessa Cassidy of Brunswick, Kristina Smith of Poland, Caroline Colan of Maranacook of Readfield, Abby Hersom of Oceanside of Rockland, Aleta Looker of Ellsworth, Adrienne Carmack of John Bapst of Bangor and Maggie Painter of MDI.