Edward Little teammates Julia Berube and Ben Atrong both won KVAC 55-meter hurdle championships and will be competing at the Class A state meet Monday. Sun Journal photo by Adam Robinson

AUBURN — Edward Little’s Julia Berube went in as the top-seeded hurdler at the KVAC indoor track and field championship last weekend. That pressure was felt all the way to the start of the race.

“I was really nervous because I was ranked first,” Berube said. “There was a lot of pressure, I don’t know if I can do this, I was kind of scared because there was a girl (Anna Reny of Cony) right close to me. I realized I could do it because I had beaten her before.”

Her teammate, Ben Strong, was seeded second behind Lewiston’s Moubarek Abdourahman. Strong was confident in his training and just needed to get over the mental hurdle.

“I wasn’t too nervous, I was more focused on staying calm,” Strong said. “I had done everything up to that point, my body was ready, so I just focused on getting my mind ready.”

Both EL juniors won KVAC titles in the 55-meter hurdles, and both are headed into the Class A state championship meet on Monday with high expectations for themselves.

But they wouldn’t have made it to this point without each other.

Becoming friends in middle school, the two hurdlers have become best friends and also each other’s unofficial coaches. During practice, each will film the other and help with technique.

“She’s like my hurdle buddy, I haven’t run a race without her,” Strong said. “She always holds my blocks and I hold hers, it’s a superstition we have. During practice and stuff we always do hurdles together. I always watch her form, she watches mine, we kind of coach each other.”

Head coach Angie Jalbert sees the bond that Strong and Berube have and says that field-event athletes have a special connection.

“They’ll always watch each other and video record each other and that goes for the whole team,” Jalbert said. “Anyone that is in a field event, they’ll help each other and record each other. That’s just kind of that field event bond.”

The hurdlers also get help from assistant coach Diana Kruszewski, affectionately named ‘Coach K.’

Coach K likes their chances at states. Berube is ranked second behind Emily Labbe of Scarborough, while Strong heads into the meet seeded ninth. Both want to just make the top eight to reach the finals and then go from there.

“They have the capability to do so,” Kruszewski said. “Especially because they have more competition now, it’ll give them that push.”

Berube’s trail leg has been cleaned up and now it’s just a matter of coming out of the blocks quicker. Berube said she is only 0.3 seconds behind Labbe for first, so a quicker start would help close that gap.

“Julia needed to work on the trail leg and getting out of the blocks,” Jalbert said. “If you ever watch a video of her you can see she’s actually behind coming out of the blocks into the first hurdle but then pulls ahead. She’s got the strength. … We’ve worked on blocks a lot this week.”

Berube’s motivated herself this year to get faster. It’s come from within and she’s reaped the benefits. Monday, she’s going to try to hit her seed.

“To get into the eight seconds, make finals first and then probably second place, maybe,” Berube said.

Strong has had to match his skill with his confidence, but his training has enabled him to be confident in where his body is and help him realize his speed.

“For Ben, it was getting his head wrapped around everything and being confident,” Kruszewski said.

“I’m seeded ninth right now for states,” Strong said. “I am expecting to move up. They take the top eight to the final, so I am expecting to get into that final and send it in the final and see what I get. I feel pretty confident, my body is rested, I’m strong. I feel like right now is the peaking time.”

 

Edward Little teammates Julia Berube and Ben Strong won KVAC 55-meter hurdle championships and will be competing at the Class A state meet Monday. Sun Journal photo by Adam Robinson