The Waterville track and field teams have dominated Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class B competition for much of the last decade.

The Purple Panthers have won a combined 10 Class B state championships since 2007.

Now, Waterville coach Ian Wilson says, the program is ready to take the next step.

“We are at the point where the program is ready to step forward,” he said. “This is the start of being a committed team to New Englands. A lot of the kids are ready to compete at a higher level. By design, we are putting a greater emphasis on the New England meet. In the past, when kids have gone, it was on an individual basis. I wasn’t too involved.”

Things are certainly different this year.

Waterville will send 16 athletes to the New England championship meet today at Thornton Academy. The Panthers held formal team practices this week to prepare for the meet.

“We haven’t done that in the past,” Wilson said. “It’s the right point in the program to make that next step. We want to showcase the kids at a higher level.”

Junior Bethanie Brown leads a strong Waterville contingent. She is the top seed in the 3,200-meter run with a time of 10 minutes, 34.79 seconds. Brown is the only Maine athlete, boy or girl, who is seeded first in an event.

“I’m looking to get a (personal record),” she said. “I’m looking forward to being challenged. I’m looking to go into that race and seeing what I can do.”

Brown is also seeded fifth in the 1,600 with a seed time of 4:55.23.

“The (1,600) will be an exciting race,” Brown said. “I’m seeded fifth, which means there will be girls there who can challenge me. I’m really looking forward to this.”

Junior Nick Danner is seeded fifth in the javelin with a throw of 177 feet, 7 inches. He’ll be joined in the throws by Nick Margitza (shot put).

Waterville junior Alex Jenson will compete in three events — 100 hurdles, triple jump and long jump. Olivia Thurston (100 hurdles, 300 hurdles), Georgia Bolduc (100, 200) and Sarah Shoulta (pole vault, 300 hurdles) will compete in multiple events for the Panthers as well.

“The kids are so committed that we owe it to them to support them,” Wilson said.

Also today, Madison senior Matt McClintock is seeded sixth in the 3,200 with a time of 9:16.92. It is the only event he’ll compete in at the meet and hopes to break the meet record of 8:58.01.

“I’m going to go after it,” McClintock said. “I hope I can get it. I’ll have to get out quick and burn the kick out of some of these guys’ legs. If I can hit 8:57, I’ll be in a position to win. Only running one event will definitely help. I use a lot of speed in the (1,600) and 800 and I usually don’t have much left.”

Colin Bennie, of Wachusett, Mass., is seeded first in the 1,600 with a time of 9:04.27.

Messalonskee senior Harlow Ladd will run the 1,600 and 3,200. Maranacook senior Abby Mace will race just the 3,200.

Other central Maine qualifiers include: Cony junior Julian Hubbard (triple jump); Winthrop senior Kameron Souza (800); Maranacook senior Abby Mace (3,200); Lawrence junior Erzsie Nagy (800); Hall-Dale senior Bri Crisci (100, 200); Lawrence senior Tim Dudley (400); Mt. Blue junior Justin Tracy (1,600); Maranacook senior Taylor Watson (110 hurdles, 300 hurdles); Erskine junior Bridget Humphrey (discus, high jump); and MCI senior Natasha Wallace (shot put, javelin).

Bill Stewart — 621-5640

[email protected]

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