AUGUSTA — There are greater hills for the Monmouth Academy girls cross country team to climb, but the Mustangs took an important first step Saturday morning on the challenging course at the University of Maine at Augusta.

Not long after losing by substantial margins in two meets against St. Dominic Academy, Monmouth surprised the Saints with a balanced effort led by its three seniors in winning the Mountain Valley Cross Country championship. Regional and state meets loom over the next two weeks, but the Mustangs took time out to savor their first MVC title in three years.

“We really wanted this,” said senior Carey Knowles, who led the Mustangs with a fifth-place finish.

Seniors Ashleigh Hartford and Jordan Mann placed sixth and eighth, respectively, while junior Shayna Frost and freshman Megan Knowles rounded out the top five.

“My seniors just ran outside their heads,” Monmouth coach Tom Menendez said. “If we can match them up one for one, I think we’ve got a stronger 5-6 than most teams out here The second season starts here.”

Monmouth scored 39 points to 45 for St. Dom’s. Boothbay Winthrop and Dirigo rounded out the top five. Boothbay won the boys race as expected with 31 points, followed by Winthrop with 57 and Lisbon with 88.

Hall-Dale’s Emma Wilson won the girls race while Winthrop’s Ben Allen was the boys individual winner. Both seniors were favored and were also named MVC runners of the year.

Allen set a strong early pace and quickly pulled away from runnerup Nicholas Harriman of Lisbon. The lanky senior finished in 17 minutes, 20 seconds, well ahead of Harriman in 17:55. Heavy rain in mid-week had little effect on his race.

“It held up very good,” Allen said. “It’s always a hard course, that’s why it’s my favorite because I think it’s the most honest. It’s got hills, flat, downhill. It’s got sand, mulch, dirt, it’s got different terrain”

Allen, who finished fourth in the Class C state meet last year, has set his sights on an individual title this season. The state meet this year will be held at Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast.

“I want to peak in two weeks,” he said. ”

Wilson also won handily, finishing 33 seconds ahead of St. Dom’s runner Sidney Sirois in a time of 21:52. With the win, the 5-foot-1 Hall-Dale runner remained unbeaten this season.

“It wasn’t my best (time),” Wilson said. “But I felt good about my pace. I still have a little bit of time, I hope.”

Boothbay’s Hannah Morley finished third followed by Telstar’s Gaby Stone. Madison’s Olivia Demchech placed seventh while freshman Rocio Vance was Winthrop’s top finisher in 20th.

Monmouth’s Luke Thombs placed third in the boys race followed by Boothbay’s Paolillo and Winthrop’s Jacob Hickey. Chris Pomerleau led Hall-Dale runners in 10th place while Jared Miller set the pace for Madison in 14th.

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