MVC Cross Country Championships: Mustangs shock Saints

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AUGUSTA — Unless you were part of the Monmouth Academy girls’ cross country camp, privy to the daily workouts and weekly progressions, the times and numbers didn’t add up.

Boothbay and St. Dom’s beat Monmouth by 40 points in a regular-season meet. Two weeks ago, in the Mountain Valley Conference midseason showcase, the Mustangs were still shy of the Saints by 20 points.

Yet there was Monmouth late Saturday morning, standing near the start-finish line of the same University of Maine Augusta course, whooping and hollering and hoisting its second MVC Championship trophy in four years.

It all made perfect sense to the Mustangs.

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“The second season starts in October, and that’s what counts,” Monmouth coach Tom Menendez said. “Unlike the other sports where you’ve got to get those Heal Points, cross country is building to a focus, which is this meet and the meet in two weeks at states. We go to a meet and say, ‘We looked lousy on hills, we need to work on it. We don’t have speed, we need to work on it.’ We looked at this meet as the place where all the puzzle pieces come together, and we won.”

Led by the fifth, sixth and seventh-place pack of seniors Carey Knowles, Ashleigh Hartford and Jordyn Mann, Monmouth (39 points) edged St. Dom’s (45). Boothbay (70) was a distant third.

“I’m very pleasantly surprised,” Menendez said. “We knew it was going to be a close meet, a couple of points either way.”

Boothbay defended the boys’ championship with ease, chalking up 31 points to runner-up Winthrop’s 57.

Ben Allen of Winthrop (17:20) and Emma Wilson of Hall-Dale (21:52) were individual champions.

Almost a full minute behind Wilson, the trio of Knowles, Hartford and Mann followed its strategy to the letter, keeping Sydney Sirois of St. Dom’s in sight while making sure the Saints’ second and third runners, Ella Brown and Emily Carney, couldn’t surge.

“My seniors ran beyond what they should have. They broke up the St. Dominic’s pack,” Menendez said. “I put three in front of their No. 2, and I think that (was) the difference. Carey, Ashleigh and Jordan just ran outside their heads.”

Shayna Frost and Megan Knowles ensured that it was enough by finishing 16th and 20th, respectively. The Mustangs even snuck their sixth-place finisher in front of the Saints’ fifth scorer.

“I didn’t think we’d go 5-6-7. I thought we might go 5, 8 and 11,” Menendez said. “If we can match them up one-for-one, I think we’ve got a stronger five and six than most teams out here.”

Sirois, a sophomore, still had a day to celebrate for St. Dom’s.

She finished 33 seconds off Wilson’s winning pace. Her strategy of going out at a fast clip and hoping to stay there paid off when she reeled in Hannah Morley of Boothbay on a late hill climb.

“I was hoping to make top-three. I started out fast, and at first I was afraid I wasn’t going to be able to hold it,” Sirois said. “I had a very bad race here (in the midseason championship). I wanted to prove this isn’t going to happen every time.”

St. Dom’s inability to hold off Monmouth might have been a matter of inexperience – only two of the Saints’ top six runners are seniors.

Brown was 10th, followed by Carney in 11th, Megan D’Alessandro 18th and Abby L’Abbe 24th.

Sirois also sensed that fatigue might have been a factor.

“I think we’re all really tired. We’ve done so well all season. We can’t win every race,” she said.

Gabi Stone finished fourth for Telstar.

Wilson and Allen each settled for second a year ago behind two of the MVC’s all-time greats, Sophia Thayer of Boothbay and Josef Holt-Andrews of Telstar.

Allen shaved more than 10 seconds off his junior-year time in breaking through for the title.

“Second was like a win for me last year, so it’s nice to actually pick up the W,” Allen said. “My plan for today was try to break it open early, and that’s what I did, which means you’re going to go through a little more pain the last 500, 600 meters than usual. Those hills hurt, but if you use them to your advantage you can open up some good gaps.”

After opening up a sizable lead near the one-mile mark, Allen said he used bursts of speed around several blind corners on the course to discourage his competition.

Nick Harriman was 35 seconds back in second, followed by Luke Thombs of Monmouth. Jacob Hickey of Winthrop finished fifth.

Boothbay clustered five runners in the top dozen, led by fourth-place Joey Paolillo.

“We were hoping to give them a run,” said Hickey, who switched to cross country from soccer this fall for the Ramblers. “It’s hard. They have like 20 guys on their team. We have seven.”

Lisbon finished third in the boys’ team sweepstakes. Dirigo edged Madison for fourth.

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