Sophie Matson of Falmouth gets the early break on the girls seeded field during Saturday's Maine Cross Country Festival of Champions in Belfast. Credit: Glendon Rand Photo

BELFAST, Maine — Sofie Matson often runs cross country races more on feel than on time.

The Falmouth High School junior does that because she’s rarely tested, especially during in-state competition. So as long as she feels right, the clock usually takes care of itself.

“At that point it’s just more of a mental thing,” said Matson, who captured her third straight Maine Cross Country Festival of Champions girls title Saturday at the Troy Howard Middle School. “I just focus on my breathing and my stride cadence and form and stuff like that.

“If I hear someone yell a split that’s way off I might change something, but usually if I’m in a good rhythm I’ll just focus on running, especially in cross country.”

Matson has been the dominant force in Maine schoolgirl running since her freshman year, not only sweeping her first three attempts at the state’s biggest cross country event each year but winning back-to-back Class A state championships — as well as state titles in the 1,600 meters and 3,200 meters at last spring’s Class A outdoor track meet.

She placed second in the 3,200 at the 2019 New England championships.

Matson set a Festival of Champions meet record despite being unchallenged. Her winning time of 17 minutes, 35.91 seconds, was well ahead of the previous standard of 17:56.39 set by Waterville’s Bethanie Brown in 2012.

“I definitely had the meet record in mind. I knew I could definitely go under that because of other performances at similar courses,” said Matson, whose Falmouth classmate, Karley Piers, placed fourth overall in 18:23.22.

Matson also blitzed her 2018 winning time of 18:21.52 by more than 45 seconds with her pace of 5:39.9 per mile.

“I’m definitely a lot further along this year than I was last year, but I think part of that was from lack of experience,” she said. “[Last fall] was only my second year and I wasn’t used to pushing myself. This year I’m trying to do that a little more and I think that’s helping me run faster times.”

Matson has become more aggressive since winning the Maine women’s division of the prestigious TD Beach to Beacon 10K at Cape Elizabeth in August in 36:01.

“I realized that if I can run an 18-minute 5K for a split then I can definitely go under 18 minutes for 5K this season in cross country,” she said.

Matson went out to an immediate lead and finished more than a half-minute ahead of Siona Chisholm of Dr. J.H. Gillis Regional High School of Antigonish, Nova Scotia (18:08.60).

“Right from the beginning I wanted to get out fast because I’ve found when I do that it really sets the tone for the rest of the race and if I can keep that up I can run better times,” Matson said.

As distant as the battle was for top individual honors, the girls team competition couldn’t have been closer with the top three schools separated by just three points.

Harwood Union High School of Moretown, Vermont, which finished fifth at this event a year ago, totaled 151 points to edge defending champion Bonny Eagle of Standish (153) and J.H. Gillis (154) for the title.

Sophomore Ava Watson paced Harwood Union with her third-place finish, while Bonny Eagle was led by led by sophomore Delaney Hesler in eighth place and Emmalie Pendleton in 13th.

Cumberland, Rhode Island, was fourth among the field of 56 scoring teams with 208 points, with Scarborough (315) and Mount Desert Island of Bar Harbor (332) next.

Bangor senior Lydia Gilmore was the top eastern Maine finisher, placing 12th overall among 631 finishers in 19:07.67.

Other top runners from the region were freshman Thea Crowley of George Stevens Academy in Blue Hill, 18th in 19:34.15; junior Claire Wyman of Camden Hills of Rockport (19th, 19:34.79), junior Olivia Mosca of Brewer (20th, 19:36.57) and junior Erin McCarthy of Bangor (21st, 19:39.53).

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Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...