BELFAST, Maine — Luke Laverdiere was speechless in more ways than one after breaking the tape at Saturday’s Maine Cross Country Festival of Champions at the Troy Howard Middle School.
The Yarmouth High School senior came agonizingly close to breaking a course and meet record held by Josef-Holt Andrews (15 minutes, 6 seconds), who is now running at Iowa State University.
Laverdiere put down a fast time, pulling away from a tight pack early in the race to win going away in 15:10.86 on the 5-kilometer course.
Laverdiere said he heard public address announcer and meet director Glendon Rand announcing where the race clock was when he approached the finish line and gave everything he had to attempt to break the record.
“I was feeling it the last mile,” said a visibly exhausted Laverdiere, who explained that he broke away from the field after a long straightaway a little more than 800 meters into the race.
A record field featured 86 teams, including contingents from every New England state and two Canadian provinces. There were 933 individual finishers and 68 scoring teams.
The runners got a gander at the layout on which the New England championship meet will be held in November.
The out-of-state entries dominated the team competition. The contingent from Concord, New Hampshire, placed three runners in the top 10 and five scoring runners among the top 20 overall to win with 58 points.
East Greenwich High of Rhode Island finished second with 123 points, while another Granite State entry, Nashua North, was third with 139 points. Falmouth was the top Maine team, finishing fourth (156), while Greely of Cumberland Center (246) rounded out the top five.
Bangor was the top northern Maine finisher in ninth place, and Hampden Academy was 10th.
The Rams were powered by the 12th-place finish of junior Gabe Coffey, who completed the race in 16:08.93 in spite of some early trouble.
“I fell at the beginning so I had to regain position,” said Coffey, who didn’t let the early tumble deter him.
Coffey said another runner fell right in front of him just after runners crested the first hill, and he had no time to react, but was otherwise OK.
“It knocked 10 seconds off my time,” estimated Coffey, who set the standard for his North brethren, while Hampden’s Wyatt Lord finished three spots behind in 15th.
“I didn’t really know where Wyatt was for half of the race until I caught up to him,” Coffey said.
As is typically the case at this midseason invitational, the Festival gave teams and individuals alike a barometer of where they’re at as they head toward the homestretch of the season and championship meets in mid-October.
“Unlike other regular-season races I didn’t have to think that often, I just looked at the back of their feet and kept on running,” said Coffey, who enjoyed competing with the out-of-state runners.
“It just shows you how great [the running community] is,” he said.
Coffey added Saturday’s field was the fastest with which he’s ever run.
Forest Mackenzie and Nate Nichols finished third and eighth, respectively, for Concord, while Oliver Spencer was ninth.
Counting all of the boys and girls races, approximately 1,682 runners finished the race. The first Festival of Champions in 2002 featured 410 combined finishers.
Brendan Penfold of Deer Isle-Stonington was the other North runner to crack the top 20 with his 20th-place effort.