A year’s worth of cross country experience has made a huge difference for Waterville senior Bethanie Brown. Saturday, Brown set a meet record in winning the girls race at the Maine Festival of Champions in Belfast.

The meet drew nearly 1,500 runners from Maine, Rhode Island and Canada, including more than 600 in the girls race. Brown jumped out to an early lead and was never seriously challenged in finishing the 5K course in 17 minutes, 56.69 seconds. Last year, her first running cross country, Brown finished sixth in 19:46.22.

“Knowing what I did last year helped me set some goals,” she said. “I thought 18 (minutes) was reasonable.”

Brown made the mistake last year of going out too fast and trying to stay with eventual winner Abbey Leonardi of Kennebunk.

“I chased (her) and did a really fast first mile and I kind of died,” Brown said. “This year it was me going out fast.”

Brown actually ran a faster first mile Saturday than she did a year ago but after a summer of 45-mile training weeks, she’s stronger and faster. In a meet at Cony High School earlier this season, she beat her time of a year ago by a minute and 20 seconds. Her experience should help in the state meet where last year she was upset by Camden Hills junior Brittany Bowman, whom she’s already beaten twice this year.

In addition to training and competing this fall, Brown has been busy visiting prospective colleges.

“I plan on going Division I at this point,” she said.

Brown’s teammates also ran well, finishing fifth overall out of 50 teams behind a couple of Class B powers in Mount Desert Island and Camden Hills.

“Last year we weren’t really on the map at all,” Brown said. “This year we actually have a little bit of depth.”

* * *

Lawrence senior Erzsebet Nagy has been nursing a hip injury this fall which has kept her from training on consecutive days. Saturday’s Festival of Champions was only her third race of the season and she exceeded her expectations by finishing third in 18:33.67.

“I was really happy with that result,” Nagy said. “I wasn’t expecting a time that fast or a place that high. I’m still coming off an injury.”

Nagy didn’t have a particular strategy other than to stick with Newfoundland’s Jillian Forsey, who finished second in 18:28.41.

“She out-kicked me at the end,” Nagy said.

Nagy felt sore Sunday but said she’s ready to build up her mileage.

“I want to practice every day with my team which I haven’t done this season,” she said. “I can’t wait for states.”

Last year, Nagy finished second in the Class A state meet to Kennebunk’s Leonardi who has graduated. She has set her sites on winning this year.

“I think I’m stronger and I know how to race.”

* * *

The Mt. Blue boys overcame a disastrous start Saturday at the Festival of Champions to finish 10th out of 60 teams.

The boys team definitely learned the hard way what it’s like to run in the seeded section where everybody is trying to get a similar pace going,” Mt. Blue coach Kelley Cullenberg said. “They took it out well in the beginning and got sucked back into no man’s land.”

It didn’t help that the Cougars drew a starting box far on the right side of the course at Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast. The runners all angled to the left to negotiate the first turn.

Justin Tracy, Mt. Blue’s top runner, was somewhere in the 50s (among runners) after the first mile while teammate Sully Jackson was in the 80s. Tracy finished 14th in 16:46.02, just ahead of teammate Josh Horne in 16:47.97.

Brandon Blank, who ran fifth in Mt. Blue’s last meet, lost his shoe near the end of the first mile when someone stepped on his heel and completed the final two thirds of the race with one shoe and finished seventh for his team.

The Mt. Blue girls finished 22nd among 50 teams and continue to improve.

“We don’t have a front runner,” Cullenberg said. “They ended up getting their pack time under a minute and we have five girls under 23 minutes. We weren’t even close to that at the beginning of the season.

* * *

The Mt. Blue Relays will be held Friday in Farmington and this year include 14 teams. The event began before Cullenberg arrived to coach 20 years ago and she has continued it.

The format involves five-person teams with each competitor running a two-mile relay. Girls and boys begin at the same time.

“I like that it’s a week before the KVACs and they’re able to run a lesser distance,” Cullenberg said. “It’s a real fun atmosphere.”

The Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference meet will be held Oct. 13 at Cony High School followed by the East regionals in Belfast and the West regionals at Twin Brooks Recreation Center the following Saturday in Cumberland. This year’s state meet will be held Oct. 27 in Belfast. The Mountain Valley Conference meet will take place Friday, Oct. 12, at the University of Maine at Augusta.

Gary Hawkins — 621-5638

[email protected]

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