H.S. Track: Purple Panthers slay Red Eddies

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AUBURN — The Waterville track and field team gathered its belongings from the infield of the Edward Little track. They hugged, high-fived and then began walking toward the parking lot.

To a standing ovation.

By the Edward Little track and field squad.

The Red Eddies applauded as the only team to defeat them in the regular season in 10 years (15 for the girls) trudged victoriously back to their buses.

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One streak began when Bill Clinton called the White House his home. The other began five years later.

And both are now over, courtesy of Waterville, a perennial power in the KVAC’s Class B division.

The Purple Panthers racked up an astounding 240½ points in a six-team girls’ track and field meet at Edward Little on Thursday, 25 better than the host Red Eddies.

The Waterville boys also posted a victory, though much more dramatic. Trailing by 12 points with one event to score, the Panthers placed first, second, fourth, fifth and sixth in the pole vault, swallowing Edward Little’s third-place finish in the event to push the squad to a 201-194 victory.

“It’s been a great competition and we always look forward to facing EL, because we know we’re facing the best there is,” Waterville coach Ian Wilson said. “We always know when we come down here we’re measuring ourselves against the best.”

The Edward Little’s girls’ track team had not lost during the regular season since 1996, a streak that spanned, prior to Thursday, 193 opponents over 15 seasons. The boys’ streak, five seasons shorter, began in 2001 and included wins over more than 130 opponents over 10 seasons.

Despite the loss — EL’s boys and girls still bettered squads from Monmouth, Mt. View, Lincoln Academy and Cony — both coaches were cool and collected, each pointing to the bigger picture. Neither Hefty nor Laroche were head coaches with the Eddies when the streaks began.

“I didn’t know how I would feel, because I knew eventually it would have to end,” Hefty said. “It wasn’t mine to start … I think it’s more important now to focus on every meet being a learning experience for the future, and I think, I’m OK. Is it disappointing? It is, but if you look at the points in this meet, that’s a lot of points to score between two teams in a single meet, and that says a lot about these two programs.”

“I was lucky enough to take over a program that already had a three-year streak going,” Laroche said. “I didn’t even really realize we had a streak like that going until my third year coaching. I couldn’t tell you what we were at coming into today without checking the numbers … In a way it’s a good thing. We had a very solid meet today, but the Waterville team brings out the best in us, and we seem to bring out the best in them.”

Waterville, which races in Class B at the conference and state meets, is one of the few teams in Maine that can match the Eddies’ depth of talent almost across the board.

“They’re a team, they’re strong where we’re weaker, and vice versa,” Laroche said. “It really is a great matchup.”

The Panthers showed their strength Thursday. The Waterville girls swept the top four places in the 100-meter hurdles, the top two places in the 100- and 200-meter dashes, went 2-3-4 in the mile and 2-3 in the two-mile.

“It makes us better. It makes everybody better to face good competition,” Wilson said. “You grow from it.”

On the boys’ side, in addition to its prowess in the pole vault, Waterville offset a good jumping day for EL with a stellar performance in the throwing department, highlighted by a 1-2-3-4-6 finish in the shot put and a 1-2 finish in the discus.

Despite the loss, Edward Little had athletes across the board perform at or better than previous personal best times and distances. Connor Harris equaled the school record in the high jump at 6 feet, 3 inches.

On the girls’ side, Emily Hartnett, Crystal LaBonte and Emily Grund went 1-2-3 in the 800-meter run, and the Eddies’ throwing team had a stellar day, with Frankie Lally setting personal records in the javelin (127 feet, 5 inches), discus (89 feet, 3 inches) and shot put (29 feet, 11 inches). Hannah Carrier, Lally, Hali Henry and Bri Robbins went 1-2-3-5 in the shot put, while Donna Daigle and Haley Roderick placed third and fourth in the discus and Kelly Philbrook second behind Lally in the javelin.

The little team that could, Monmouth, performed admirably against its much larger cohorts. The Mustangs, a Class C school, placed fourth in the boys’ meet with 60 points, just 14 back of Cony in third, while the Monmouth girls placed fifth out of six with 22 points, just 22 back of third-place Cony on that side.

“We wanted to come out and run with the big dogs and see what we’ve got,” Monmouth coach Tom Menendez said. “We’re just preparing for two weeks from now. I was impressed. We had some good performances with the hurdlers, with the javelin, with the discus.”

Kevin Desmond was the star for the Mustangs on Thursday, turning a pair of laps in 1:59.81 to win the 800-meter run by nearly 10 seconds.

“We had talked about trying to break two minutes, and I told him if the weather was good, this was a good place to do it,” Menendez said. “The goal was a 60-second first lap and a 59 the second. And he went a 60 and a 59.”

Two weeks remain before track and field’s conference meets fire up across the state, and only three weeks separate teams from their respective state meets — the meets, according to both EL coaches, that truly matter.

“There’s one meet that matters the most,” Hefty said. “Every single regular-season meet, it’s like a practice.”

“It was a track meet, but in the end, it’s not a big deal and it’s not the one that really counts,” Laroche echoed. “In the end, no one is going to care about the final score (Thursday). Coach Wilson won’t care about it, I won’t care about it and the kids really won’t after a while, either. The real meet is the state meet. It’s eluded us now — we’ve been second three times in the past eight years and in the top six every year. We’re hungry, that’s the meet that counts, and I think this will help us.”

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