BELFAST — Aaron Willingham couldn’t believe it happened again.

For the second time in as many races at Troy Howard Middle School, the Mt. Blue senior lost his footing about a mile into the race. Saturday’s spill at the Eastern Maine Class A cross country championship was no more than 50 meters from the spot on the 5-kilometer course where he had fallen three weeks earlier while leading the Festival of Champions.

“I was so angry. I almost quit, because it’s the second time it’s happened,” Willingham said. “But I told myself to find the courage to try to win.”

Willingham regrouped and rallied to win the race in 16 minutes, 24.77 seconds, holding off a late surge by Lewiston’s Isaiah Harris (16:26.52).

Hampden Academy swept the boys and girls team titles in Class A. The Mt. Blue boys finished second. Orono swept in Class C.

Waterville’s Chris Cote won the Class B boys race. The Caribou boys and Mount Desert Island girls took home the team titles.

Willingham and the rest of the front of the pack set a blistering pace in the first 1,500 meters when the course, still slippery in spots due to this week’s torrential rains, bit back.

“The first mile was crazy,” he said. “At the starting line, I was really nervous. Seeded first, everybody’s going to be gunning for you, especially the Lewiston guys, who I was extremely worried about because they’re so much better on flat courses.”

Willingham and the Lewiston contingent are veterans of many a Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference battle, but the competition is a friendly one.

“The Lewiston guys are really nice, so during the race, while I followed them, they were like ‘Come on, come on,'” Willingham said. “I was like ‘Alright, I’ll go,’ and I finally found the courage to just go.”

Willingham started to separate himself from the pack about 400 meters after his mishap and led Harris by about 20 meters with half-a-mile left. Harris, who chased him down in the final 200 meters to win the Laliberte Invitational in the preseason, closed the gap significantly once again before Willingham broke the tape.

Dan Lesko of Mt. Blue was third, Osman Doorow of Lewiston fourth and Caleb Lord of Hampden fifth.

Cote kept his footing throughout his race to open up a commanding lead after the first mile and win his first Eastern B title.

“My coach (Rob Stanton) and I worked on thousand-meter repeats and feeling the pace,” Cote said. “As soon as I broke away from the people behind me, I just let that take me through the rest of the race. I was feeling confident by the time the last 1,000 meters came up, and then I just let loose.”

Cote, a senior, finished in 17:12.94, 10 seconds ahead of runner-up Caleb Love-Webb of Camden Hills.

“I didn’t care if I got first or second, but I wanted to post a good time coming into states next week, and I think I did that,” Cote said.

Erskine’s Camrin Portela vaulted from a 10th-place finish at last week’s Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference championships to third in the Class B race with a time of 17:49.51.

“About a mile-and-a-half in I started getting tired, like most races. I was, like, ‘I’m not gonna let it happen,'” said Portela, a senior. “I just stuck with (Cote and Love-Webb). I wasn’t letting myself slow down. I think I got a 5:20 (in the first mile), which is up there with one of my fastest miles. I know I slowed down a little bit after that.”

Waterville junior Lauren Brown (20:14.76) placed third in the B girls race, behind champion Haley Lawrence of Ellsworth (19:51.28) and Caroline Driscoll of MDI (20:06.33).

“I was pretty pleased,” Brown said. “My main goal was to try to hang with those top couple of girls, and I managed to stay within a few seconds of them, so I was happy about that.”

Brunswick’s Tessa Cassidy (19:29.93) won girls Class A, beating runner-up Anne Guadalupi (19:40.91) of Cony, who won last year as a freshman. Those two and third-place finisher Elizabeth Labun of Hampden formed a tight pack for the first two miles before Cassidy started to put some space between her and the field.

“From running at Festival of Champions, I knew where I wanted to be at certain places,” said Cassidy, who finished fourth among 693 runners at that race. “I could definitely visualize the race before-hand, so that helped a lot.”

The top 30 runners in each class qualified for states and will return to Belfast next Saturday. Other local girls who advanced from Eastern A were Skowhegan’s Vasilisa Mitskevich, who was ninth on Saturday, Messalonskee’s Avery Brennan, Mt. Blue’s Maggie Hickey, Megan Charles and River Lisius, and Cony’s Courtney King. Class A boys qualifiers were Messalonskee’s Owen Concaugh (seventh), Zachariah Hoyle (eighth), Carson Bessey and Natale Cardillo, Cony’s Andrew Levesque (10th), and Mt. Blue’s Tucker Barber, Isaiah Reid and Brendan Hickey,

Other local qualifiers in Class B girls were Waterville’s Cecilia Morin (ninth) and Anna Curtis, and Megan Noble and Abigail Berdoll of Maine Central Institute. Qualifying boys were Erskine’s Justin Studholme (ninth) and Ethan Dodge, Winslow’s Jacob Boudreau and Nicholas Gurney, and Billy Chambers of Waterville.

The top half of the total number of teams entered in each class qualified for states as teams. In Class A, the Mt. Blue boys and girls and Messalonskee boys will compete next Saturday. In Class B boys, Erskine and Winslow advanced, while the Waterville and MCI girls earned spots in the championship.

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @RAWmaterial33


Facebook comments

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.