No one, not even the biggest New York Yankees fan, was happier that the Boston Red Sox never even got a sniff of the playoffs in 2014 than Winthrop cross country coach Ed Van Tassel.

Like many New Englanders, Ben Allen, Van Tassel’s star runner, got caught up in Red Sox World Series fever last year. He even saw the Red Sox clinch the title in Game 6 in person. Unfortunately, that was three days before the state cross country championships, and as Red Sox fans know very well these days, celebrating a World Series title can disrupt one’s sleep and training schedules.

“He ran out of gas a little bit (at states, finishing fourth), so he’s doubly-motivated this year,” Van Tassel said. “The last three years, his seasons really haven’t ended the way he wanted them to, so he’s doing all he can to make sure all the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed.”

Allen and hundreds of other runners will be in Belfast on Saturday for the state cross country championships at Troy Howard Middle School. The first gun goes off at 11 a.m. with Class C. Class B begins at 12:30 p.m., Class A at 2 p.m. Each class starts with the boys race, with the girls scheduled to follow 45 minutes later.

All three classes feature locals with hopes of winning individual state titles. Mt. Blue’s Aaron Willingham and Dan Lesko and Anne Guadalupi of Cony rank among the favorites in Class A. Waterville’s Chris Cote and Lauren Brown hope to compete for gold in Class B.

The Class C field is loaded with challengers to Allen, a senior who is coming off his first Western C championship last Saturday.


“He definitely drew confidence from that, but we know Matt Malcolm (of North Yarmouth Academy) is going to bring his ‘A’ game and (Eastern C champion) Matt Toussaint (of Fort Kent) is going to be right there),” Van Tassel said.

John Hassett of George Stevens Academy, Tristan Butterfield of Orono, Merriconeag’s Tucker Pierce and Monmouth’s Luke Thombs could also be factors.

Willingham, the Eastern A champion, has had his share of thrills and spills on the Belfast course. He fell while leading the Festival of Champions there earlier this month and ended up finishing sixth. At regionals last week, he had another slip-up in almost the same spot but the senior held onto the lead and won his first regional title.

Willingham’s biggest challenge Saturday probably won’t be staying upright, even if conditions are as wet as some forecasts predict. Western A champion Iid Sheikh-Yusuf, his Deering teammate, Yahye Hussein, Scarborough’s Jacob Terry and Falmouth’s Bryce Murdick lead a deep contingent of contenders from the other region.

Osman Doorow of Lewiston and Hampden’s Caleb Lord and Paul Casavant could also set the pace. But it could be another Mt. Blue senior, Dan Lesko, who finished eight seconds behind Willingham for third place at regionals, who could push his teammate.

“Aaron has to work really hard in practice to fight Dan off,” Mt. Blue coach Kelley Cullenberg said. “There are many times where they have the exact same times. I think Dan certainly has put the work in to go sub-16 (minutes). There are just little things here and there that have stopped him.”


Guadalupi followed up her Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A championship with a second-place finish at regionals, 11 seconds behind champion Tessa Cassidy of Brunswick. Hampden’s Elizabeth Labun and Western A winner Anna Slager of Gorham and runner-up Maddy Doyle of Marshwood are also among the favorites.

Cote captured the Eastern B title in Belfast last week, and the senior seems to be peaking at the right time, according to Waterville coach Rob Stanton.

“He’s looked better in training the last couple of weeks. He’s starting to come around,” Stanton said. “The Western Maine regional is pretty strong. Certainly, we’d like to see a top 10 finish, but both (Cote and Brown) have the potential to win it.”

Western B champion Mitchell Morris of Cape Elizabeth, Leavitt’s Harrison Knowlton, Patrick Carty of Fryeburg and Eastern Maine runner-up Caleb Love-Webb of Camden Hills should also battle for the title.

Brown, a junior, finished third in Eastern B and could move up to challenge regional champions Haley Lawrence of Ellsworth and Katherine Leggat-Barr of Greely if she continues to improve, Stanton said.

“She had one of her better, if not her best race of the season, on Saturday. I think she took a pretty significant step forward,” Stanton said. “There are very few girls in the state that she can’t run with.”


Boys teams from Mt. Blue, Messalonskee, Maranacook, Erskine, Winslow, Winthrop and Madison and girls teams from Mt. Blue, Waterville, Maine Central Institute, Maranacook and Monmouth qualified to compete on Saturday. The champion from each class then the top three remaining teams from the merged results of all three classes will qualify for the New England championships Nov. 8 in Manchester, Conn. Individually, each state champion plus the next 22 finishers overall by time also earn an invitation.

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

Twitter: @RAWmaterial33

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