BELFAST, Maine — For coaches and runners alike, the Maine Cross Country Festival of Champions not only provides Maine schools a taste of out of state competition, but a midseason barometer as postseason races beckon in October.
If Saturday’s day of fast running is any indication, the final three weeks of October are going to be fun to watch.
The girls from Camden Hills High School of Rockport proved they are going to be one of the teams to beat in Maine, as the Windjammers placed second and were the state’s top entry at the Troy Howard Middle School 5-kilometer course.
Glastonbury High School in Connecticut drove back to the Constitution State as winners, accumulating 115 points while the Windjammers finished with 228.
Cumberland, Rhode Island, which has attended every Festival of Champions since its 2002 inception, was third with 240 points followed by East Greenwich, Rhode Island (278) and Yarmouth (284) rounded out the top five.
Falmouth High School freshman Sofie Matson, who opted to run in the seeded section as opposed to the freshman race, was the only 9th-grader in the seeded field.
She led wire to wire, breaking the tape in 18 minutes, 17.37 seconds.
“I wasn’t sure if people were going to go out fast in the beginning or if they were going to run more conservatively,” said Matson.
It wasn’t exactly a clean start for Matson, who got boxed coming off the line. But she churned to the front of the pack shortly after cresting a small hill shortly after the start of the race and never trailed again.
“The point is just to enjoy racing and have fun,” said Matson, who was unwavered by the large field that included runners from 86 high schools from New England and two Canadian provinces.
Camden Hills was powered by sophomore Grace Iltis, who finished fourth overall in the seeded girls race. She ran a personal best in the process.
“It felt really good, this was my first time breaking 19 [minutes] so I was really excited,” said Iltis, who was clocked in 18:46.3 and was the top Northern Maine finisher in the deep field.
“I felt really good the whole race.”
Iltis and Matson agreed that it was great to get an early peek at the course on which November’s New England championship meet will be contested.
Matson cranked through the first mile in about 5:34, and maintained a controlled, strong pace throughout the race.
“I knew I wanted to be out in at least the front of the pack so I just went for it,” she said. “At the beginning I was worried [the pack] was going to try to make a move and catch up to me.”
Iltis was part of that chase group which also included Sophia Laukli of Yarmouth, who wound up second, Carolyn Todd of Greely, who claimed third, and Kathryn Miller of York, who finished right behind Iltis.
Camden Hills was the lone Northern Maine school represented in the top 10 of the seeded section. Augusta Stockman finished 10th and she and Iltis enabled the Windjammers to take home the runner-up plaque.
“I think it really pushed me and it just really good to be with those girls,” said Iltis, who feels her best times are ahead of her.
“I’m really excited, I think I’m going to try to go for a PR at [regionals and states],” she said.
In the freshman section, Karley Piers of Falmouth won going away in 18:57.76.
Piers is the daughter of former Beach to Beacon Maine champion and Maine running standout Sheri Piers.
The unseeded section was won by Haley Labossiere, a sophomore from Burrillville, Rhode Island, in 22:05.40.