“Hi,” was written on Barber’s left shoulder blade. “I’m Tucker,” was written on the right.

The intro had started smearing by the time the boys’ seeded race was over, but Barber had run, for better or worse, a typical Tucker race Saturday at Troy Howard High School.

The Mt. Blue senior finished 10th at the massive cross country event. He was the tri-county area’s highest finisher and set a new personal record with a time of 16 minutes, 30.11 seconds.

Finishing right behind Barber in 11th place was Winthrop senior Jacob Hickey, who achieved a time of 16:32.91.

Bugsy Hammerton of St. Dominic Academy was the area’s top girls’ seeded race finisher, coming in 27th, completing the 5-kilometer course in 20:12.17.

For Barber, placing 10th required a familiar finish.

“The Festival’s always a mixed bag; you never know quite what will happen,” Barber said. “Although, the start’s pretty predictable, and I kind of got screwed up there, as usual, with the big pack of people trying to get out. And I didn’t do it well, so the whole race was a catch-up game.”

More than 1,700 runners from 76 schools (68 Maine schools) competed Saturday. With numbers like those, it is inevitable that each of the six races will begin with a traffic jam as runners leave the school’s football field and funnel onto the course.

Barber wasn’t the only Mt. Blue boy to get off to a slow start. The Cougars began so slowly that coach Kelley Cullenberg wasn’t able to stick around and see the first few of them at the half-mile mark before heading over to meet them at the mile marker and update them on their times.

“They were way back at the mile,” Cullenberg said. “But everybody takes it out so fast here that I think, in a weird way, it might have played to their favor because they were strong enough to be able to pass the people that they passed.

“Certainly, it made it interesting.”

By Cullenberg’s estimate, Barber was in the 50s a mile into the race.

Barber slowly made his way up. Toward the end of the race, he was in the top 25, but barely. At the finish line, only a few minutes later, he had made it into the top 10.

“Toward the end, it was just one-by-one, trying to get people,” Barber said. “Just, any time I saw an opening or felt I could have gone faster, I looked to go forward more.”

Though not necessarily part of the plan, Barber is accustomed to races going that way.

“He is the kind of guy that can go out more conservatively and pick up the pace,” Cullenberg said. “So that’s why I’m saying it may have played, in a weird way, in his favor.”

Barber said his previous personal best 5K time was 16:35.

Yarmouth’s Luke Laverdiere won the boys’ seeded race by a whopping 18 seconds.

A pair of Lewiston juniors turned in solid performances in the boys’ seeded race: Isse Tawane placed 25th (16:49.91) and Abbas Muktar came in 33rd (17:02.96). Mt. Blue junior Zeke Robinson had the area’s fifth-best finish (54th).

Falmouth took the boys’ team title with 127 points. Lewiston finished an area-best 11th, with 408 points. Mt. Blue was 12th with 422 points.

“All of my boys in that seeded heat — it was ridiculous. They were so far back,” Cullenberg said. “I have no idea how they ended up doing what they did. I don’t know if anybody in the race passed more people than they did.

“But who knows what could have happened if, you know, whatever happened didn’t happen, and they could have been up where they potentially should have been right from the get-go.”

Similar to Barber, Hammerton had a strong finish to the girls’ seeded race. In fact, she was making her moves up until the finish line, including one final kick to pass Bonny Eagle’s Christine Toy.

“That’s my favorite part, I love the end,” Hammerton, a sophomore in her first season on the cross country team, said. “I think I did awesome. I felt great.”

Hammerton’s teammate, Caroline Gastonguay, was the area’s next highest finisher, taking 34th (20:23.12).

“They both had good races,” St. Dom’s coach Josh Brown said.

The Saints were looking to see how they stacked up, particularly against the expected elite Class C schools such as Orono and George Stevens, against whom they think they can be in competition with for a state championship on Oct. 29, back in Belfast.

However, outside of Hammerton and Gastonguay, Saturday wasn’t a banner day for St. Dom’s. The Saints placed 19th, behind both George Stevens (sixth) and Orono (14th).

“That’s not the way we hope things work out a month from now at states,” Brown said.

“This race, while it’s a big race, and it’s a fun race, there’s only three races that matter in cross country, and that’s the last three: the conference championship, the regionals and states.”

Mt. Blue took 21st as a team, led by senior Maggie Hickey, who had the area’s third-best individual finish (41st). Lewiston’s Zaid Teklu (57th) and St. Dom’s Sydney Sirois (74th) round out the tri-county top five.

A pair of tri-county runners ran to ninth-place finishes in Saturday’s other races: Mt. Blue’s Emmett Trafton in the boys’ freshman race and Lewiston’s Abdirahman Dekow in the boys’ unseeded race. Dekow finished two spots ahead of teammate Nicholas Roy.

Lewiston’s Jenna Burton finished 10th in the girls’ unseeded race, while Mt. Blue’s Kahryn Cullenberg had the area’s top showing in the girls’ freshman race, placing 20th.


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