Mt. Blue’s Emma Charles was among the early leaders in the seeded race at the Festival of Champions cross country meet Saturday in Belfast. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

BELFAST — It may be a sibling rivalry, but there’s anything but hard feelings between the White sisters.

The duo — Ruth and Nora of Orono High School — have started to make it a habit of finishing at the top of the results page in distance running, whether it be on the track in the spring, or on a cross country course in the fall.

They did it again Saturday afternoon at the Festival of Champions at Troy Howard Middle School. Ruth, a sophomore, was the top overall girls finisher with a time of 17:28.46. Nora, a senior, finished second at 18:09.53. Ruth was the first to greet Nora at the finish line, wrapping her older sister in a hug.

“I was just here to have fun, I wasn’t planning on winning,” Ruth White said. “There were eight girls seeded ahead of me, all really strong girls. My sister was right behind me, and every time I looked back, I could see her right there. That just kept pushing me. And people yelling me the time (pushed me), but I knew those girls were coming in strong behind me and anything could happen.”

“It was a dream,” Nora White said. “But I couldn’t have done it without my sister, who got first.”

Ruth White’s time broke both the course (formerly held by Julia Robitaille of Manchester, New Hampshire in 2017) and meet (formerly held by Falmouth’s Sophie Matson in 2019) records. It was one of several highlights at the annual meet, now in its 20th year. Bonny Eagle (91) won the girls team title by one point over Harwood Union High School of Moretown, Vermont, while Brunswick (150 points) won the boys title, with Bangor (229 points) finishing second. Monmouth’s Alexa Allen was the top-finishing area girl, with a 12th-place time of 19:31.02.

It’s far from the first time the pair have finished 1-2 in a race. Ruth finished as the winner of the 1,600 and 3,200-meter runs at the Class C track and field championships back in June in Brewer. This fall, the pair have finished in the 1-2 spot at the Ellsworth Invitational, the Bucksport Invitational and the Central Invitational, with Ruth being the top finisher in each race.

Monmouth Academy’s Alexa Allen runs in the 20th Maine XC Festival of Champions on Saturday at Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast.  Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“We push each other, we run together every day,” Nora White said. “I love it. She carries me on my hard days, I carry her on her hard days. We work together. We do it all together, so it’s good to be able to finish a race like that together.”

But at home, running is not the main topic of conversation.

“We’re sisters, and we love each other, I think it’s good,” Nora White said. “At home, we don’t cross country much, it’s just (being) siblings at home. It’s nice to have that.”

Orono may have owned the top two female finishers, but it was Bonny Eagle that took home the girls team title, edging Harwood by one point. Senior Delaney Hesler (18:29.01) was the top finisher for the Scots, while teammate Addy Thibodeau (19:22.04) finished 10th.

“We like this course,” Bonny Eagle coach Mike Burleson said. “I think it was a good day for our girls. We didn’t have five run great, but we had a couple step up today. We had a sophomore (Thibodeau) run the best race of her life today. That’s what changed the meet right there. Everybody else ran where they should. We had two sophomores in our top five today and they were game-changers.”

Dan McCarthy of Bangor (15:34.24) was the top overall boys finisher, besting defending champion Abbott Valentine of Hampden Academy (15:44.35). Mt. Blue’s Cyrus Evans was the highest-finishing area boys runner, crossing the line eighth (16:33.82).

It was McCarthy who finished second to Valentine in last year’s race.

“I am super excited to be back, it feels awesome,” McCarthy said after the race. “(The course) was better than I thought after walking it. When I was walking (at the beginning of the day), I was worried it was going to be really muddy. There were a few (muddy) spots, but it was better than I expected.”

“I was dying for about half of the race, and the other half (of the race) I just wanted to quit, but I felt it was a pretty good cross country race,” Valentine said. “(The course) was a mess out there, with all the rain we’ve been getting. It saturates the ground. Then you have 1,000 people running over it, it just tears (the course) up.”

Brunswick won the boys title, paced by Joey Valliere (15th place) and Eli Palmer (18th place).

“It’s really big for us from two years ago, the last time we got to compete here,” Brunswick coach Dan Dearing said. “Last year, we didn’t get to compete here, so just coming was huge. Then, trying to see where we are with all these great teams out here, that’s what we really needed to see, where are we (as a team).”

After a race that involved reduced fields last year, the Festival of Champions was back in its normal state Saturday. Around 1,400 runners took part in six races, involving 73 Maine high schools, three schools from Rhode Island and Harwood as the lone Vermont representative.


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