ORONO, Maine — Hampden Academy’s Paul Casavant toed the line for the 3,200-meter race at the Penobscot Valley Freshmen Championships last June with the rare opportunity to compete against his peers.
The precocious freshman took off from the gun and never looked back, running a meet record of 9 minutes, 58.36 seconds. It took more than 30 seconds off of the previous record, but more importantly, Casavant emerged as a top runner in Class A.
“Last outdoor season was really a huge breakthrough for me,” said Casavant. “It really motivated me and [helped me] see what I could do and see where I could go.”
After a cross-country season last fall where he placed ninth at the Class A state meet, Casavant has dominated the indoor season, winning all of his races and making it look easy. The sophomore standout holds the fastest mile time in the state overall, running 4:27.58, and he recently ran a personal best in the two mile last Saturday at the New Balance Field House, clocking a 9:44.69, the fastest in Class A.
“It felt incredible,” Casavant said. “It was really a breakthrough race, and it shows that I’m ready for the postseason.”
Another sophomore, Orono High’s Rebecca Lopez-Anido, also is enjoying a stellar indoor track season. In only her second season, Lopez-Anido has become one of the top performers in Class C, ranking first in the state overall in the 800 (2:21.57) and second in the 400 (1:00.50).
Casavant has already made his way into the record books at Hampden Academy. His time last Saturday proved to be a school record, a time that was broken by over 15 seconds. The range that he has displayed has impressed his distance coach, Jason Kash, who has seen some of the best runners in Hampden Academy history during his tenure.
The early-season times don’t surprise Kash, and he attributes Casavant’s success to his mental toughness.
“A lot of running takes place between your ears and your head, and he’s very good at that aspect of running,” Kash said.
Kash believes the mental part comes from the training that Casavant has been able to do throughout the year. He emphasizes increasing mileage in the beginning of the year, which helps Casavant build aerobic strength for the longer events, specifically the two mile.
Kash has been impressed with Casavant’s ability to stay mentally focused during longer events that can be mentally exhausting for a young runner to handle.
“He’s very good at removing himself and his mind from those races and letting his body take over,” Kash said. “He’s got the body for it.”
Casavant started running in eighth grade after playing soccer for most of middle school. His older brother started running a year before, which influenced him to make the switch, and he has enjoyed it ever since. Yet despite his accomplishments and fast times, his favorite aspect of running comes from the team camaraderie.
“I like the teamwork about running and the community,” said Casavant “But, I also do like running fast and hard. I like putting my body to the test.”
As Hampden moves toward postseason, Casavant will likely put his body to the test a few more times. Saturday’s conference championships are in his sights, but he is hungry for a state championship as well as a school record in the mile, which he is less than a second off.
“Hopefully I can get it at states,” he said.
Before Casavant put his name into the Hampden Academy record books at the New Balance Field House, Lopez-Anido put in another fine performance on the baby-blue track just hours before, winning the mile in a personal best time of 5:30.27.
Despite winning by nearly 30 seconds, and posting the second fastest mile time in Class C, Lopez-Anido prefers to compete in shorter races.
“My favorite event to run would have to be the 800 and then the 400,” she said.
Her success in such a variety of events has impressed 14-year Orono head coach Chris Libby.
“She has tremendous leg speed.” Libby said. “She has an amazing capacity to hold herself in a pretty uncomfortable place. That’s why she’s been successful.”
Libby is quick to note how special a talent Lopez-Aindo has become, and it reflects his coaching philosophy. With the team, he has created an atmosphere that preaches training, while also finding enjoyment in overall success. His training emphasizes quality repetition, and with the talent Lopez-Anido possesses, Libby doesn’t have her do heavy mileage as he believes it would run the risk of her burning out in the years to come.
“She’s a talent,” he said. “We don’t want her best year to be in 10th grade.”
“We do two workouts each week, and then on the other days we try to go for longer runs,” Lopez-Anido said. “We go for time not mileage.”
Lopez-Anido defines the personality of a two-sport athlete. She has played on the soccer team at Orono since she started high school, and she first competed in track nearly seven years ago when her dad placed her in the summer track program in Orono. She remains humble and realizes there is still room for improvement despite her success at a young age.
“It makes me think of what kind of athlete I want to be by my senior year,” she said.
As the postseason looms, Lopez-Anido isn’t focusing solely on winning a state championship in one of her events but rather bettering herself each time she races. She credits Tia Tardy of Mattanawcook Academy as a runner she can compare to and motivate her, but she insists that there is no rivalry between them and often finds herself hugging Tardy after races.
“It’s not about beating other people you’re running against,” she said. “It’s about mentally overcoming your fears and pushing yourself.
“You are your biggest competition,” she said.