Winthrop High School runners Madison Forgue, left, Olivia Vance, center, and Sage Fortin run along the trail behind the high school during a cross country practice last month in Winthrop. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Jennifer Boudreau was talking to her Gardiner cross country team after a meet on a Friday afternoon, and she had some good news.

“I laid it onto them, I said ‘Well, we have KVACs and states are coming up soon,’ and they were like ‘What?’ ” the Tigers coach said. “They were pumped, to say the least.”

The Maine Principals’ Association made the news official on Friday, announcing that there will be state championship meets in cross country, held Nov. 11 and 14.

Conference meets will determine which teams and individuals qualify and get to compete at Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast, the site of the annual Festival of Champions. The first qualifying meet is Wednesday, with central Maine Class C girls looking to make states at the Mountain Valley Conference championship at Maranacook High School.

Across the sport, coaches and runners were thrilled. Even if the plan from the beginning was to have championships at the end of the season, the hanging threat of COVID-19 — which has forced some schools and counties to temporarily shut down this fall — has reminded everyone that nothing in high school sports this fall is a given.

“We were always hopeful that they were going to figure something out,” Maranacook coach Jay Nutting said. “We knew it was going to be different, because everything’s been different this season, but now that there’s something officially in the books, it gives you something to plan for and we can fine-tune our training plan knowing it’s really going to happen.”

Waterville runners Joshua Way (567) and Andrew Turlo (566) lead a small pack of runners from the starting line during a meet earlier this month at Quarry Road Trails in Waterville. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

“We were not sure until it actually happened,” Waterville coach Ted Brown added. “Just like I told the kids all year, every race could be our last. We’re just glad to have at least a window of opportunity. Of course, the window could close, we’re aware of that. But it’s good to have at least a little something to look forward to.”

Monmouth coach Tom Menendez said championship meets give runners the proper conclusion to the season.

“I think they’re going to be really excited to find out that we’ve got a state meet,” he said. “It’s just a wonderful chance for them to go out and do it. Now it gives them a focus for the end of the season, and it’s going to give them closure to the end of the season. It’s not like ‘Oh well, we ran out of time, nothing’s going to happen, go on home.’ ”

The runners were relieved to find out the biggest meets of the year are still on the schedule.

“It’s driving us, it’s really lighting that fire that we need,” said Maranacook senior Sophie O’Clair, who was fifth in the Class C meet last season. “I’m very happy that it’s at least happening right now, and we’re going to take what we can get.”

Waterville’s Abby Wiliams, who was 19th in Class B as a freshman last season, said having those championships provides a jolt of enthusiasm for the final weeks.

“It’s a real relief. It really adds a big motivation for the next meets, and the next few weeks we’re definitely going to be training a lot, more than we would before if we hadn’t known that the meet was actually going to happen,” she said. “It definitely would have felt like we didn’t have any closure at all. We haven’t had any team dinners, we haven’t had our team bonding experiences that we usually have.”

Williams said she doubted she and her teammates would get the chance.

“I actually did not think the KVACs or states were going to happen at all,” she said. “I did not think they were going to happen with how many people are going to be in there.”

She wasn’t alone.

“I didn’t think it was going to happen at all,” Boudreau said. “And I still don’t want to get too excited, because Kennebec County’s on watch right now, and the next time the DOE will make their decision on if we’re yellow or not is the Friday before KVACs. … So I’m a bit nervous for that one.”

Tyler Patterson of Brunswick, front, holds a slim lead over Ben Greene of Falmouth, left, and Zach Barry of Scarborough, right, during a cross country meet earlier this season at Brunswick High School. Eli Canfield/The Times Record

KVACs on Oct. 31 will be the chance for conference schools in Classes A and B to qualify for the state meet. There are no regional meets this season; instead, a specific number of teams from each conference meet will qualify. The top four teams in KVAC A and top three in KVAC B and MVC make the cut, as well as the top two runners on non-qualifying teams.

That’s a tough cut, which Lawrence coach Tim Alberts said was the only caveat to Friday’s news.

“We were a little saddened by the structure,” said Alberts, whose boys team qualified for the Class B championships last year despite finishing fifth in KVAC B. “I don’t envy the MPA for having to have had these discussions, I don’t envy the phone calls they must be fielding. … (But) it is disheartening for those kids who worked really hard, and now they might not be able to go.”

Alberts, who has a Class B championship hopeful in senior Josiah Webber, nevertheless said that having championships to shoot for gives all teams a boost.

“This is huge in that regard,” he said. “It does give that extra motivation, it gives those teams that last year almost made it, it gives them a shot. … There would be some added interest there, some added excitement. And I feel like those conference meets are going to be really competitive, unlike any other year because they know so few teams can go.”

On the Midcoast, teams and runners are excited for an opportunity to compete as well.

“I think our coach realized we were likely to have a state meet and planned our training programs accordingly,” said Mt. Ararat senior Jace Hollenbach. “We worked hard for this all summer and are excited about the opportunity.”

Added Mt. Ararat senior Camila Cienbroniewicz: “I was quite surprised and excited when I heard there would be states. I was also thrilled to find out it’s going to be held in Belfast, it’s one of my favorite courses to run.”

Members of the Morse cross country team also welcomed some good news in a time in which good news can be rare.

“The state proceeding with championships was some of the most fulfilling news I have heard in a while,” said Morse senior captain Liam Scanlon. “I’m really excited for the shot our team has at states this year.”

Morse runner Iris Hennin is eager to race, but said she is also looking at the meet differently.

“There are far fewer people qualifying, so it looks like runners will have to mainly qualify as teams,” Hennin said. “We have a greater incentive for all of our runners to do well.”

 

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