READFIELD — Some athletes work for four years in cross country, indoor and outdoor track to earn just that one conference championship in an individual event.

Others compete over the same time frame, but never come close.

Then there’s Kelby Mace, the type of athlete that seemingly falls from the pages of a Bernard Malamud novel.

The type of competitor who can seamlessly transition from one sport to the next thanks to unrivaled, natural ability.

“He’s been that way ever since I’ve known him and I’ve known him for six or seven years,” says Ronn Gifford, the ski and outdoor track coach at Maranacook Community High School. “It doesn’t matter what sport he’s tried to do, he’s been very good at it.”

On Saturday Mace — a senior competing in his first season of high school track — won the triple jump at the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class B championships with a leap of 40-feet, 10 1/4-inches. His mark was two feet and 9 1/4 inches further than when he tried the event for the first time in a meet on April 29 earlier this season.

So, why all of a sudden go out for a sport he had not done since middle school?

“I wanted to see how well I could do,” Mace says. “… I had a feeling I could do fairly (well) at it, and it was my last chance.”

Fairly well might be a bit of an understatement. Saturday in Bath Mace also took second in both the high jump and javelin, and placed fourth in the long jump as well.

“It’s exciting because when I started out I was fresh so I didn’t have high PRs or anything,” he says. “Most of the time I’ve been PRing a lot, getting a lot better. It’s been fun to keep getting better at it.”

For those who know Mace, his success is of little surprise.

Prior to coming out for track, he had spent the past three springs playing tennis.

“We hated to see him go. Kelby’s a fantastic kid and I mean a super athlete,” Maranacook tennis coach Mike Morin said. “He was a great tennis player. He picked it up real quick and is just a natural athlete.

“…You could give him a pointer on mechanics and within minutes he’d be picking up on it. It would take him time to develop, but he would understand what it would take to develop a particular shot.”

Last year Mace split time at No. 1 singles with classmate Alec Daigle and even qualified for the state singles tournament after mostly playing doubles his first two seasons.

“He was a smart player. Good court sense and he knew how to win,” Morin said. “Natural athletes can do that. They just know how to win, they know what to do and they just find ways to get it done.”

For Gifford, he has watched Mace get it done for the past four years — just not in both sports he coaches.

If there is one sport Mace has stuck with, it has been alpine skiing and this past winter he was one of the best in the state.

“Skiing turned out to be the one, big focal point that he had,” Gifford said. “He turned out to be one of the top three or four skiers in the state, and he was in the top 15 or 20 in the Eastern High School Championships in alpine skiing.”

Gifford saw the potential in Mace in track during the ski season, but never could get the natural athlete to join him in the spring.

“I was begging for him to come out as a freshman,” Gifford said. “I think initially he saw track as running and he really made the decision that he did not want to run.

“He kind of struggled getting past the running aspect and as the years went on I think he started to see other opportunities for him in track not just being on the track.”

His decision was also aided by the fact that he had grown since the last time he had done track.

Mace was predominately a distance runner in middle school, and he also ran cross country his first two years of high school. He suspected he would end up in events like the 1,600 and 3,200 if he came out for the team, but he was still curious to see just how well he could do in the jumping events with his new height.

“I thought that if I did track I’d have to do distance because I used to do that in track and I used to do cross country,” Mace said. “I just wanted to stick with tennis, but I’ve gotten a lot taller and I’ve gotten a lot more confident in my jumping so I thought that I’d be able to try something new.”

The decision was certainly a welcomed one by Gifford. At the KVAC B meet he scored 30 of his team’s 80 points in leading the Black Bears to a third-place finish.

“Obviously he’s brought a lot of physical talent to the team. He’s a real raw athlete as far as track is concerned but he’s got great springs,” Gifford said. “He’s committed, he’s hard working and from that standpoint he’s shown a good example for the rest of the team. For many he sort of brings a level of excitement, and for a lot of kids to see somebody of that ability motivates them to push their limits.”

Mace and his Maranacook teammates will find out just where those limits are on Saturday as they wrap up the season at the Class C championships beginning at noon at Foxcroft Academy.

Evan Crawley — 621-5640 | [email protected] | Twitter: @Evan_Crawley

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