Edward Little’s Jillian Richardson runs the course on her way to finishing in second with a time of 18:29.87 at the Festival of Champions on Saturday in Belfast. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)

BELFAST — The story of the girls’ race at the Festival of Champions cross country meet Saturday was who was going to challenge Sofie Matson of Falmouth for the title. Matson won as a freshman in 2017 by 19 seconds.

This year was much of the same, to a degree. Matson took off early and carried a strong lead throughout. She had a nine-second lead at the first mile and a 14-second lead at the second mile, and went on to win with a time of 18:21, four seconds slower than her freshman year.

However, Jillian Richardson of Edward Little stayed nearby throughout. Richardson battled at the beginning with Gorham’s Kate Tugman in pursuit of Matson. The EL senior then pulled away and was in sole possession of second place at the second mile by amassing a 10-second lead over the pack. She didn’t have enough real estate to catch Matson at the end but still finished second in the 5-kilometer race at 18:29.

“Leading up to the race I wasn’t really sure what other girls would be doing but once the race started I knew I probably wouldn’t be able to out-kick them at the end because I don’t have a very strong kick,” Matson said. “… It was nerve-wracking and I knew I didn’t want to have it come down to a kick at the end with (Richardson).”

Richardson wanted to be in the lead pack but started to feel better than she thought she would a mile in.

“I always feel I fare better on hilly courses, but we have been working on a lot of speed workouts on the track so I felt pretty confident today,” Richardson said. “I’ve been reading a lot of running books and they always say that if you feel the pace is too slow then to have confidence and run your own pace and I felt like it was going too slow so I just went fast.”

Richardson’s body was responding well and helped her take control of second place after the first-mile mark.

“I’m always scared, especially when I’m in the top, to pass people, so once I did that I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, I’m going to get them.’”

Ami Beaumier of Bonny Eagle finished in third with a time of 18:45, leading Bonny Eagle to a first-place team finish. Tugman ended the race in ninth with a time of 19:02.

Mt. Blue’s Kahryn Cullenberg finished in 16th place with a lifetime best time of 19:33.

“I have been sick this week and so at the end of the race my throat was pretty bad,” Cullenberg said. “But other than that I felt really great.”

In the boys’ race, Rhode Island runners Joe O’Rourke (Classical High School) and Andrew McClure (Burrillville High School) came through the first-mile-marker neck at about five-minutes-flat with a 10-second lead over Bangor’s Gabe Coffey and the rest of the pack, which put doubt into Coffey’s mind that he could pull out a win.

“I kind of thought that they were going to run away from us, honestly,” Coffey said. “I was kind of competing against the Maine guys that I know well.”

McClure fell off the pace by the second-mile mark and it was O’Rourke and Coffey who were neck and neck, while Brunswick’s Will Shaughnessy, Falmouth’s John Auer and Scarborough’s Tristram Coffin were all close behind when the lead pack crossed the two-mile line. Coffey would emerge victorious with a time of 15:54, eight seconds faster than Auer and 10 faster than Shaughnessy.

“I didn’t think that we would catch up to them,” Coffey said. “But there was a place in the race where we were at two miles and it was like they are ahead and the only way for me to bridge the gap was to run off of them until I get to the top of the hill.”

Coffey took off at the two-mile mark and never looked back. The competition of not just runners from out-of-state but also his friends from all over Maine helped fuel the senior’s fast time.

“I just wanted to run competitively and run with the guys that I don’t really get to run with up in Bangor,” Coffey said. “I generally just run with Hampden, and that’s about it, so it’s really nice to run with some of the guys that I run with in the summer that I know.”

For Shaughnessy, Festival of Champions was a warm-up of sorts and also a gauge to test where his times are heading into the bigger meets. It turns out that the junior is ahead of schedule.

“My goal was to be better at states than I was today and my goal for states was under 16, so today I tried to run 16:10,” Shaughnessy said. “I think I ran 16:02, so I am very, very happy with that. I wanted top-10 and I thought maybe that was a stretch, but I found myself at second place at two miles and I thought, ‘I guess I will keep it going.’”

Coffin finished in fifth with a time of 16:06. Gray-New Gloucester sophomore Will Maines finished in 40th place with a time of 17:28. In 85th place was St. Dominic junior Mark D’Alessandro, who crossed the line at 17:53. Despite the slower-than normal time, D’Alessandro vowed to “bounce back.”

While Coffey won the race, the Rams came in second to Brunswick in the boys’ team title with Scarborough finishing in third.

Edward Little’s Jillian Richardson runs the course on her way to finishing in second with a time of 18:29.87 at the Festival of Champions on Saturday in Belfast. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)

Mt. Blue’s Kahryn Cullenberg, left, runs with Falmouth’s Malaika Pasch at the Festival of Champions on Saturday in Belfast. Cullenberg finished in 19:33.46 to place 16th. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)

Mt. Blue’s Jesse Dalton finished 26th in 17:09.09 at the Festival of Champions on Saturday Sept. 29, 2018 in Belfast. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)

Falmouth’s Sofie Matson and Gorham’s Kate Tugman are among the leaders at the start the seeded girls’ race during Festival of Champions on Saturday in Belfast. Mattson went on to win the race. Behind her is Lewiston’s Zaid Teklu. Far right is Edward Little’s Jillian Richardson, who placed second. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)

Edward Little’s Jillian Richardson at the start of the seeded girls’ race during the Festival of Champions on Saturday Sept. 29, 2018 in Belfast. Richardson finished second. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)

Edward Little’s Jillian Richardson finishes in second with a 18:29.87 during Festival of Champions on Saturday Sept. 29, 2018, in Belfast. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)

Falmouth’s Sofie Matson won with a 18:21.52 during the Festival of Champions on Saturday Sept. 29, 2018 in Belfast. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)

Runners collapse after finishing the Festival of Champions cross country race Saturday Sept. 29, 2018, in Belfast. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)

Bonny Eagle’s Ami Beaumier finishes third in 18:45.94 during Festival of Champions on Saturday Sept. 29, 2018, in Belfast. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)

The seeded girls’ pack takes off from staring line during Festival of Champions on Saturday Sept. 29, 2018, in Belfast. Falmouth’s Sofie Mattson, fifth from right (225), won it with a 18:21.52. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)

Bonney Eagle’s Anthony Breton runs a 17:05.82 to finish 22nd during Festival of Champions on Saturday Sept. 29, 2018, in Belfast. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)

Bonney Eagle’s Aiden Wiley, center, runs in Festival of Champions on Saturday Sept. 29, 2018, in Belfast. He finished 9th place with a 16:32.35. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)

Boys in the seeded race take off from starting line in the Festival of Champions on Saturday Sept. 29, 2018, in Belfast. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)

Maranacook runners Lily Welch, left, and Dana Reynolds hug after finishing Festival of Champions on Saturday Sept. 29, 2018, in Belfast. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)

Kents Hill’s Lauren Murray crosses finish line in 39th place at 20:39.54 in Festival of Champions on Saturday Sept. 29, 2018, in Belfast. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)

Boys in the seeded race take off from starting line in the Festival of Champions on Saturday Sept. 29, 2018, in Belfast. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)

Falmouth’s Sofie Matson and Gorham’s Kate Tugman start the seeded girls’ race near the front during Festival of Champions on Saturday in Belfast. Mattson went on to win the race. Behind her is Lewiston’s Zaid Teklu. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)

Bangor’s Gabe Coffey won the Festival of Champions in 15:54.51 on Saturday in Belfast. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)

Bangor’s Gabe Coffey won the Festival of Champions in 15:54.51 on Saturday Sept. 29, 2018, in Belfast. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)

Bangor’s Gabe Coffey won the Festival of Champions in 15:54.51 on Saturday Sept. 29, 2018, in Belfast. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)