BELFAST — Saturday’s rain did little to deter Maine’s two top cross country runners — Madison’s Matt McClintock and Kennebunk’s Abbey Leonardi.

The two seniors repeated their titles at the Maine Festival of Champions, winning their 5-kilometer races handily. McClintock finished in 16 minutes, 8.7 seconds, 20 seconds ahead of runner-up Mike Tate of J.H. Gillis High School of Antigonish, Nova Scotia. Leonardi won by an even greater margin, finishing in 18:16.55, while Lawrence junior Erzsebet Nagy took second in 19:02.42.

Both runners had course records in the back of their minds, but by the time they began, hundreds of runners had already turned the course at Troy Howard Middle School into a sea of mud.

“The conditions were tough,” Leonardi said. “You couldn’t really get into a consistent pace. Normally it’s a good fast course.”

Leonardi set the meet record of 17:58.35 last year while Old Town’s Cassie Hintz set the course record of 17:52.60 in 2004. McClintock thought he had a good shot at breaking the boys course mark of 15:33 set by Brunswick’s Will Geoghean in 2009, but that changed by race time.

“There was no place you could go where you weren’t slipping and sliding all over the place,” he said. “My spikes had grass up to the little tip of them. There was no room to grip.”

Over 1,200 runners from 60 different schools, including one each from Vermont, Rhode Island and Nova Scotia, competed in six races in front of well over 3,000 spectators. Falmouth won the boys title followed by J.H. Gillis and Cumberland High of Cumberland, R.I. Mount Desert won the girls race followed by Camden Hills and Falmouth.

Nagy never threatened Leonardi, but held on to second through most of the race. Former Class B state champ Abby Mace of Maranacook finished third while Waterville junior Bethanie Brown took sixth.

“I knew I wasn’t going to go out with Abbey Leonardi but I didn’t want to get too far behind so I couldn’t see her,” Nagy said. “I just wanted to run a strong race and I wanted to run my race. I was happy with my time.”

Mace finished a strong third in 19:20.26, six seconds ahead of Jaime Thomas of Harwood, Vt.

“It was a great race,” Mace said. “I felt really good the whole way. The first mile I ran with Erzsebet but I kind of lost my footing going around that corner and she just took off and was gone.”

Brown took off with Leonardi for the first part of the race.

“I tried to chase the first-place runner,” she said. “I knew in the beginning I might risk everything doing that but I kind of wanted to.”

McClintock pulled away from Tate on the first hill and was never challenged after that. He led from start to finish.

“I don’t have a kick so I try to get out fast and use my endurance,” he said. “I love this race. We only started coming last year and this year. It’s great to come out and race all my friends, Class A and Class B runners I never get to run against.”

The top 20 runners in each the boys and girls seeded races were recognized at the award ceremony. Mt. Blue’s Addie Cullenberg finished 11th, helping her team to a sixth-place finish, while Madison freshman Bronte Ellis took 16th and Waterville junior Lara Bluhm finished 20th. In the boys race, Messalonskee senior Harlow Ladd placed ninth and Winthrop senior Kameron Souza finished 18th.

This was the Festival’s 10th year and it continues to grow. It was started by Brewer cross country coach Glendon Rand and Belfast coach Joanne Nealey who were captains of cross country teams at the University of Maine.

“We thought this was a good meet to have in Maine,” Rand said. “Other states have big invitational meets like this, Maine didn’t. We wanted to build something on that scale here.

“It’s the biggest high school sporting event in Maine in terms of number of schools and number of athletes. I don’t think any other sport has something this big.”

Gary Hawkins — 621-5638

[email protected]


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