Much like a 16th seed in the NCAA basketball tournament, the Dexter boys cross country team is savoring the chance this week to join Maine’s top interscholastic runners at Saturday’s state championship meet.
The Tigers aren’t likely to win the Class C state crown after being the sixth of seven teams to qualify at last weekend’s North regional.
But getting this far wasn’t expected when preseason practices started in August — at least if the reaction to their fourth-place finish at the Penobscot Valley Conference championships is any indication.
“It was a complete shock,” Dexter coach Marcy King said. “We were sitting there half-listening as they were reading down the team points, and all of a sudden someone said, ‘We got fourth!’ I said, ‘We did not,’ and they said,‘Yes we did!’
“Sure enough we got the results and there we were.”
Dexter has fielded cross country teams off and on — mostly off — during the past few decades. Only last year was the program reinstated because the sport was growing at the nearby middle school, Ridge View Community School.
King, a 1990 Dexter graduate, anticipated the need for a high school team given the sport’s development at Ridge View, so she volunteered to serve as that team’s coach last year.
“My daughter had started running cross country at Ridge View, and it was popular there,” she said. “I knew the kids from the middle school were coming up, and if there’s no program, you’re going to lose those kids so there was a need and a need that had to be filled pretty quickly.”
Dexter’s 2018 high school squad included only four participants, but prospects seemed brighter last spring when 20 runners signed up for this year’s team.
That number gradually dwindled but still had enough for a full-scoring boys team as well as four girls on the final roster.
The Tigers hosted a regular-season meet for the first time in years at Ridge View.
Then came the PVCs, and the realization that the boys squad had postseason potential. Freshman Payson Rienhardt led the way with his sixth-place finish.
Saturday’s regional at Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast was approached with modest expectations, but with Rienhardt (13th), junior Michael Gadwah (33rd) and sophomore Nickolas Gallighan (39th) leading the way, the Tigers made their breakthrough.
“I went back to school on Monday after the PVCs and told them we finished fourth and now we’ve got the chance to make it to states,” King said. “My AD said, ‘Regionals are pretty big.’
“But lo and behold, here we are.”
Other boys on the team are senior Augustus Irwin, sophomore Miles Gadwah and freshmen David Race and Christian Gallant.
Two freshmen, Annika King (35th) and Emma Alexander (36th), raced for Dexter in the girls regional, while other girls on the postseason roster were sophomore Caroline Lambert and freshman Breanna Thompson.
With close to 30 runners competing at Ridge View this fall under coach Brian Rienhardt, a former All-American in cross country at SUNY Cobleskill, the future looks bright for a more stable high school program.
“We’re a young team and there’s a lot of growth potential,” King said. “So many of our runners have cut so much time off their pace this year, it’s just been an incredible season.”