Edward Little’s Payton Bell passes by a roped-off area, which in previous years would have held back many cheering fans, on her way to a fourth-place finish at the spectator-less Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference cross country meet last month at Cony High School in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Editor’s note: The Maine high school cross country state championship races, which were supposed to be held this week, were canceled, so the Sun Journal is recognizing the area runners who qualified.

This cross country season was particularly important to Edward Little sophomore Payton Bell for one reason — the team’s seniors.

Bell, who has qualified for the state championships for the past two years, is concerned there might not be a full-fledged EL girls team next year. 

The state championships were canceled this week due to the uptick in COVID-19 cases, and the abrupt ending didn’t really sit well with Bell.

“I was really bummed out,” Bell, whose best time was a 20:30 finish at Maranacook this season, said. “Basically, states and New Englands — the other meets are important — but that’s what you run for. You train for states and you train for New Englands.

“So when you hear you are not going to have it, it is a little sad, but at the same time, I am not that bothered by it because there have been teams like Mt. Blue that haven’t had a year. I have been really happy to have a season at all.”

Edward Little coach Keith Weatherbie said Bell has a bright future ahead of her.

Edward Little sophomore Payton Bell placed fourth at the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference cross country championship last month at Cony High School in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

“I think she ran into a little lull earlier in the season, but then she really came on strong towards the end,” Weatherbie said. “I was thinking she was going to have a really good state meet.”

Bell said while there will still be a Red Eddies cross country program, the girls team will certainly lack depth.

“Our seniors … make up a majority of the team, and since this is their last year, we pretty much wanted to do good because we knew they were leaving,” Bell said, “and once they leave, you really won’t have a team. So we wanted to do good for that reason. 

“We will have a program, but there won’t be that many girls. We will have a boys team, but we won’t have a girls team. If we have no middle schoolers come up as freshmen to run, our girls team will consist of three girls. Over time now, people are realizing how hard cross country is and they kind of just not want to do it.”

The Red Eddies did do well in 2020. Weatherbie said that this season was the team’s best showing in the three years that he has the coach.

“Before the state qualifier, we did three meets and we won all three of them,” he said. “That was a real plus for them. We hadn’t done that well in the past. That is one of the reasons that made it a really good season. 

“They had good strong leadership from Lily Vincent. She did a fantastic job with the girls and making it into a good season.”

Bell, who is passionate about running, said her mental toughness is one of a handful of reason that makes her log all those miles.

“For me, it is the competition,” she said. “I just love going out there and trying to beat people. Like last year, Kahryn Cullenberg from Mt. Blue, that was my goal — just to beat her. Like that’s all I wanted to do. I looked up to her so much when it came to running.

“I like competition part of it, but I also like the individual part of it. I like team sports, but the thing about track and cross country is that it can be not just a team sport. You can do it for yourself. You really don’t have to rely on others, and so if you don’t do good, it is on you. That’s what I like about it.” 

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