Edward Little High School’s Payton Bell, was named the 2020 All-Region girls cross country runner of the year. She poses for a photo in front of the school on November 21, 2020. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Editor’s note: The coronavirus pandemic made the 2020 fall sports season different than any before it. Some teams didn’t play. Those who did, played shorter schedules, and some only a handful of games or less. There were still standout players, though. And while there might not have been enough games to compile the typical All-Region teams, the Sun Journal still wants to recognize some of the standouts by selecting players of the year for the sports that had seasons.

Payton Bell’s freshman year running cross country for Edward Little restored her enjoyment for the sport and renewed her thirst for competition.

Circumstances beyond her control threatened to derail her enthusiasm and development during her sophomore year, but Bell was determined to keep running fun and pounce on whatever opportunities to compete arose.

Bell showed through three regular-season meets and her first-place finish in the KVAC Class A South state qualifier that she was building to another strong finish at the state meet before it was canceled due to the recent rise in COVID-19 cases.

Her performance in what turned out to be the biggest race of the season earned her recognition for the second year in a row as the Sun Journal All-Region Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year.

The top freshman finisher, and ninth overall, in last year’s Class A state meet, Bell was looking forward to measuring herself against the top competition again this year.

But with the benefit of hindsight and more maturity, Bell now realizes that she’d let what was beyond her control take too much control of her mental approach to running.

“I learned a huge lesson this year, I learned you’re not going to have your best season every year. Everything isn’t going to happen as you planned it,” she said.

The stress of losing her spring track season and having her fall cross country season delayed by the virus made Bell put more pressure on herself, which multiplied any time there was a postponed meet or a canceled practice. The mentality she’d started to develop because of that stress seemed all too familiar.

“I almost didn’t do cross country my freshman year because when I did it in middle school there was always so much talk about how I’d done at meets, and asking myself why hadn’t I’d done better, and it wasn’t fun,” she said.

Edward Little High School’s Payton Bell, was named the 2020 All-Region girls cross country runner of the year. She poses for a photo in front of the school on November 21, 2020. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Simply being a freshman took a lot of that pressure off, and it was easy for her to focus on the positives she could take out of each performance. But having set a high standard in her first year, Bell was letting all of the obstacles and distractions that came with this year’s uncertainties to crowd out the positives.

“I started to realize that I had to keep all of the talk positive and try not to let all of that other stuff get into my head,” she said. “I just had to go with the flow more and deal with what’s going on and I think once I came to that realization, all of the stress just kind of went away.”

Bell also understood that keeping a positive mentality couldn’t compromise keeping it real if she wanted to improve and ultimately peak for the postseason. For that, she’s thankful she has the blunt analysis of Edward Little coach Keith Weatherbie to sprinkle in those doses of reality.

“The thing I love about Coach Weatherbie is he doesn’t BS anything,” Bell said. “I don’t like a coach that sugarcoats anything, and he doesn’t. That motivates me more.”

Motivated yet more relaxed, she finished up the season with wins at Oxford Hills and Maranacook and a come-from-behind win in the KVAC South race in Augusta (for social distancing, the conference ran separate South and North races at Cony High School and Bell finished fourth overall to qualify for the state meet).

With the indoor track season all but canceled due to the virus, Bell plans on taking some time away from running this winter and looking forward to what she hopes will be her first outdoor track season in the spring.

Whatever happens, though, Bell is confident she’ll be able to go with the flow.

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