Liam Levasseur and Mark D’Alessandro pose for a photo before the start of their cross country practice at St. Dom’s on Monday afternoon. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)

AUBURN — Mark D’Alessandro and Liam Levasseur of St. Dom’s are coming off strong summers of training in preparation for the 2018 cross country season.

D’Alessandro, a junior, called the summer of 2018, “my best couple months of running in my life.” Levasseur, a sophomore, had a summer of speed work and road races. The two are hoping their work pays off through improvement of their state meet finishes in 2017.

D’Alessandro and Levasseur ended the last school year by finishing in the teens in the 3,200-meter run at the outdoor track Class C state meet in June, and now both are excited for the season of their favorite sport to start.

“Cross country by far is my favorite because of the different terrains, hills, and you’re not always going left,” D’Alessandro said. “We are really close as a team, I love the team aspect.”

St. Dom’s coach Josh Brown said the excitement his top runners have for the sport is crucial to their success.

“Liam and Mark are fairly similar and will probably take the same path through their high school careers,” Brown said. “Liam has talent and desire for the sport. He is coming into his sophomore season, so he still has some development to go, but I think he is going to follow the same path Mark is with the year-after-year improvement. (Mark) has the talent for the sport, but especially in this sport he wants to do it. That’s what is critical in running. It is much more about desire and want than just pure physical talent, but Mark has some pure physical talent, as well.”

At the 2017 Class C cross country state meet, D’Alessandro ran a time of 18:26 to finish 17th, while Liam finished in 20th with a time of 18:30. Both are hoping to break 17 minutes this year.

St. Dom’s opened the 2018 season Saturday at the Lake Region Invitational, where D’Alessandro earned his first win of the year.

“I took it out on pace for the first mile and then I just turned it on from there,” D’Alessandro said. “I felt good.”

Brown was impressed with what he saw from his top runner in the 3-mile race.

“He is running with power,” Brown said. “What we saw on Saturday versus what we even saw last winter and spring, you can see the difference in his running. He went out fairly conservative in that race, which was our plan. Then after the mile mark he was about fifth or sixth at the mile and just progressed through the field. At the 2-mile mark he had taken the lead and pretty much went on his own.”

Levasseur finished sixth, but it’s already in the back of his mind.

“It wasn’t my best race, but I am just going to forget about it and move on,” Levasseur said. “There are a lot of races left.”

Both runners started running in fourth grade for the Auburn Rec track program. In middle school they both got the competition bug and fell in love with the sport.

It’s too early for Brown to put goals out in the open since there are a lot of races left. However, Brown likes the trajectory of his runners.

“They both want it, and I’ll take that anyday over physical talent, not that they don’t have talent,” Brown said.

“It’s a long season, we race a lot in Maine so we are trying to keep things pretty lowkey this early. We will worry about specific season goals later on.”

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