Lewiston’s Abbas Muktar runs with Scarboroughs’ Harrison Osborn during the Class A Mstate cross country championshops in Belfast in Nov. 2016.

Lewiston’s Abbas Muktar runs with Scarboroughs’ Harrison Osborn during the Class A Mstate cross country championshops in Belfast in Nov. 2016.

There’s plenty of room at the top of the tri-county boys’ cross country hill.

The girls’ scene should be more of the same. Most of last year’s top runners return: Edward Little’s Jillian Richardson, Poland pair Olivia Ouellette and Samantha Halmos, St. Dom’s duo Bugsy Hammerton and Caroline Gastonguay, along with super sophomores such as Winthrop’s Maya Deming, Mt. Blue’s Kahryn Cullenberg and Monmouth’s Kaitlin Hunt and Bea Stewart.

The boys’ side? Not so much.

Graduated are Class A state champion Tucker Barber of Mt. Blue, and Class C runner-up Jacob Hickey of Winthrop. Likewise Edward Little’s Jacob Gamache, who placed sixth in Class A last fall.

However, several boys’ runners have taken ownership of their teams’ top spot, and could step up into the upper echelon of their classification — a top-10 state finish or even better.

Of the returning runners, the fastest time and highest finish at last year’s state championships in Belfast was achieved by Lewiston’s Abbas Muktar. He came in 24th in Class A, running a 16:59.51.

“He’s a really hard worker, he does everything with care and precision, which is really commendable; so everything from the stretches and the dynamic warm-ups and workouts and runs, he’s just really intentional about everything he does,” Lewiston coach Rebecca Dugan said.

Muktar, a senior, didn’t start running cross country until his sophomore year. He has since developed stamina and consistency, and has matured into a runner primed to break out.

“He’s such a tough kid, and everything he does he gives 110 percent,” Dugan said. “So I just think it’s one of those kind of really clear pictures of you get out of it what you put into it.”

Muktar was the second-fastest area runner at the Scott Laliberte Invitational, a preseason short-course race, last week. He placed third, 28.5 seconds behind the race’s runner-up, senior Dominic Sclafani of Oxford Hills.

Sclafani’s time of 14:04.31 is more than 41 seconds faster than his time at the same meet last year.

“He was expecting to do pretty well, but he’s never placed that well in a race previously, so he was pretty excited about that,” Vikings coach Luc Roy said.

As a junior, Sclafani finished 59th at the Class A state meet. Roy said Sclafani wants to have better, faster finishes to his 5-kilometer races this year.

“He’s looking to really zip up the ending of his races,” Roy said. “He’s had a really difficult time with going out too fast in some of the bigger venues and dying and not having enough left to really give it a good kick at the end.”

Right behind Muktar at the Laliberte in fourth place was Mt. Blue team captain Zeke Robinson.

The senior took 39th in Class A in 2016 while following the pace set by Barber. This year, it’s Robinson’s time to lead.

His time during Mt. Blue’s summer time trial was slower than in 2016, when he was right behind Barber. However, Robinson afterward said he was satisfied with his offseason training and the base he had built from it.

The results finally came in the preseason race.

“Although his time wasn’t as fast in the time trial, he said he just felt much better,” Cullenberg said. “And so going into Scott Laliberte, given what he said, neither of us anticipated that he was going to run faster than last year, and he did. And he felt really strong after the race, he definitely felt like he had more to give.”

The Cougars lost many of last year’s top performers to graduation, but still return three of the seven that ran Mt. Blue to a sixth-place state finish. Along with Robinson, that includes sophomore Emmett Trafton (44th at state) and junior Sam Stinson (60th).

Cullenberg said that junior captain Jesse Dalton has made strides and was running right with Robinson in the preseason.

“He was JV, for the most part, last year,” Cullenberg said, “but got healthy over the summer and has really been able to do some training.”

The Cougars’ other captain senior Jon Lesko is finally healthy and ready to step up.

In other words, Mt. Blue might again be a team to watch.

Edward Little’s new No. 1 going into this season is senior Russell Allen, who finished 29th at the state meet in 2016. Allen followed that with what was shaping up to be a solid indoor track season until injury derailed the rest of his junior sports year.

He spent the offseason healing while also working on his fitness.

“He’s healthy, that’s one of the best things. He’s been working out all summer, and he looks good as a runner. He’s been lifting,” Red Eddies coach Ryan Getchell said. “I don’t think he’s been doing as much mileage as he has in the past, for his offseason workouts, but that’s not a bad thing because it’s just going to help him be more prepared and ready to go out and compete during the season.”

The KVAC is packed with tough runners, as is Class A, but Getchell said Allen should be in the mix for top-10 finishes in the postseason.

“There’s a lot of strong competitors in this division,” Getchell said. “Russell has that competitive edge that’s going to allow him to go out there and be competitive with those guys.”

There are several other tri-country runners who could end up at the top of the area. Telstar Gaelan Boyle-Wight placed 29th in Class C last year, while St. Dom’s Mark D’Alessandro and Nick Welsh had nice showings as young runners.

Cam Bancroft is an experienced runner as Oxford Hills’ No. 2, and Lewiston’s Noor Shidad is showing potential. Winthrop’s Vincent Scott and Zak St. Germain are gunning for postseason honors.

Of course, as Cullenberg points out, at this point, predicting who will rise to top and who will exceed expectations is “a guessing game.”

Dominic Sclafani, from Oxford Hills, nears the end of the Class A state cross country championshops in Belfast in Nov. 2016.

Dominic Sclafani, from Oxford Hills, nears the end of the Class A state cross country championshops in Belfast in Nov. 2016.

Edward Little’s Russell Allen, right, helps Cony’s Jack Wroten following the Class A North cross country regional championships at Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast in October. Allen placed 16th and qualified for the state meet.
BDN

Edward Little’s Russell Allen, right, helps Cony’s Jack Wroten following the Class A North cross country regional championships at Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast in October. Allen placed 16th and qualified for the state meet.

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