Hall-Dale cross country coach Chris Poulin thought a state championship was within reach for his boys team after last season ended, since his seven top runners were returning.

But by the time the season started, three had changed their minds.

“I lost the first, third and fifth runners over the summer,” Poulin said. “One went back to soccer, another was injured and Josh Ringer just didn’t show up.”

Things eventually fell into place. Ringer, the team’s top runner, returned to the team and James McAuliffe, who ran in the No. 2 spot, transferred from Richmond. Neither was on the trail for the first meet against Winthrop, though, since they hadn’t participated in enough preseason practices.

“The first meet at Winthrop didn’t look too good,” senior Matt Plourde said. “No James, no Josh. Judging by that race, we didn’t think we had a chance.”

That would be Hall-Dale’s only loss of the season and the Bulldogs built momentum as the weeks wore on. It culminated Saturday in Belfast when they won the Class C state championship, their first in cross country since 1988. They placed four runners among the top 18, led by Ringer in the No. 8 spot, and beat runner-up Orono by nearly 30 points.

“I still don’t think it’s fully sunk in,” Plourde said.

Poulin didn’t give the team a summer running program as he had done in the past because of personal obligations.

“I gave them very little direction this summer,” he said. “I did no recruiting either. I said if the boys want to join they’ll join on their own.”

The team did work in the off-season, though.

“I took it upon myself this year to run more than I had in the past,” Plourde said. “The rest of the team had a similar approach.”

In addition to Ringer, McAuliffe and Plourde, the top seven on the team include Chris Pomerleau, Thomas Plourde, Austin Gardner and Harry Cheung, all of whom contributed to the team’s success. Once Ringer rounded into form, the Bulldogs took off.

“He is a runner,” Plourde said. “He has a passion for running.”

When they won the all-Mountain Valley Conference meet in September, Poulin said he started to think a state title was a possibility. It was further confirmed later in the month when the Bulldogs were the top Class C team at the Festival of Champions, run on the same course as Saturday’s race.

“I think our performance at the Festival sealed it for me,” Poulin said.

They followed by winning the MVC championship meet and the Western Regionals although there was room for improvement in both events. Poulin made sure his team didn’t have a letdown.

“He wanted it more than any of us,” Plourde said. “I think our team fed off his will to win. He told us what we need to do and we didn’t want to disappoint him.”

Ringer, Plourde, Gardner and Cheung are graduating, but there is a strong contingent waiting to join the team.

“The Hall-Dale Middle School team had a very strong season,” Poulin said. “Eight boys are planning on running next year.”

Gary Hawkins — 621-5638

[email protected]

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