Erin McCarthy of Bangor heads the lead pack of runners in front of Olivia Mosca of Brewer (19), Julia white of Orono (64), George Stevens Academy's Thea Crowley (33) and Megan Randall of Bangor (7) during Saturday's Maine Cross Country Festival of Champions in Belfast. McCarthy won the individual title and led Bangor to the team crown. (Glendon Rand Photo)

BELFAST, Maine — Erin McCarthy has at least a couple of goals for the 2020 cross country season.

One is to lead an emerging Bangor High School girls squad to success, and a second is to pare her personal-best time for the typical 3.1-mile course to less than 19 minutes.

The Rams took a significant step toward that collective goal Saturday by capturing their first team championship at the Maine Cross Country Festival of Champions at the Troy Howard Middle School.

McCarthy, a senior, also inched closer to her individual goal, reducing her time from the first race of the season a week earlier by 41 seconds to pull away to the girls individual championship with a time of 19 minutes, 21.55 seconds.

“My team and I were really excited that we had a shot of winning so that was a lot of motivation,” said McCarthy, who finished 21st overall in last year’s much larger festival field.

This year’s girls race featured just nine teams and 61 runners, a concession to COVID-19 state mass-gathering mandates that limit outdoor events to a maximum of 100 people — which in this case included runners, coaches and race officials.

At last year’s festival, 631 girls representing 75 schools completed the races.

“There were no spectators, which is unfortunate because I miss running around and seeing all the costumes and the music playing and the cowbells,” McCarthy said. “But also there’s not as many [runners]. I came in tied seeded for first, and if there were more teams here I don’t think that would have been the case, but it would have given me more people to run with.”

Class A Bangor amassed 40 points to earn the team title. The Rams topped perennial Class B contender Mount Desert Island of Bar Harbor, second with 69 points, and Class C powers George Stevens Academy of Blue Hill (111) and Orono (125).

Brewer rounded out the top five with 128 points.

“Those teams have been in front of us for a long time on the girls side,” Bangor coach Roger Huber said. “I’m super excited for the girls. They’ll be pleased.”

McCarthy was one of four Bangor runners to earn top-10 results, with all seven varsity Rams placing among the top 23.

Junior Megan Randall, a transfer from Scarborough who finished ninth in last year’s Festival of Champions and 21st in the 2019 Class A state meet, placed sixth overall for Bangor while sophomores Sadie Harrow and Carly Hayward were separated by less than a second in eighth and ninth place, respectively. Senior Anna MacDonald and freshman Sophia Mazzarelli placed 16th and 17th, and sophomore Bridget Frazier added a 23rd-place effort.

“The girls this week had no idea they had a possibility of winning today,” Huber said. This will be such a huge confidence booster for them.”

McCarthy ran with an early pack that included Brewer senior Olivia Mosca and GSA sophomore Thea Crowley. She took control of the race and stretched her lead out to a 16-second victory over the second-place Crowley, who was timed in 19:37.91.

McCarthy, who ran a 6:03 first mile, finished the race with an average per-mile pace of 6:13.9.

“Erin was in a pack together at the mile mark, but just beyond the two-mile mark she was ahead by probably 20 or 30 meters,” Huber said. “She just looked strong and seemed to be enjoying herself. She was relaxed.”

Mosca, who edged McCarthy by less than a second at last year’s festival, finished third in 19:49.19, followed by seniors Julia White of Orono (19:59.30) and Ava Dowling of Hampden Academy (20:38.39).

MDI placed three runners in the top 11, with sophomore Callan Eason seventh, classmate Ella Joyce 10th and junior Grace Munger 11th.

Ernie Clark

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...