The Messalonskee boys cross country team enjoyed a strong season last fall, and it returns this year with higher expectations.

The Eagles finished third in Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A, but given the graduation of the top two conference runners — Mt. Blue’s Aaron Willingham and Dan Lesko — as well as a strong returning nucleus, they are poised for a strong season.

Juniors Owen Concaugh (7th in KVAC Class A, 18:03.30) and Zachariah Hoyle (12th in KVAC Class A, 18:41..20) will lead the Eagles. Seniors Carson Bessey and Natale Cardillo give Messalonskee ample depth to make a run at perennial KVAC Class A powerhouse Hampden Academy.

“We are always pushing each other along and we have a lot of fun,” said Concaugh.

A good individual matchup to watch this fall will be Cony senior Andrew Levesque and Messalonskee’s top duo. Levesque battled Concaugh closely last fall through the championship meets. In the KVAC A meet, Levesque beat Hoyle by 11 seconds but then was bested by Concaugh in the Eastern A meet by four seconds and then by 23 seconds in the Class A championship meet on a fast Belfast course last November.

“He and the other Messalonskee runners are great and they are a powerhouse. Running with their top guys is good and we all get along pretty good,” said Levesque.

The Rams will also feature a pair of juniors — Aaron Emerson and Brandon Emerson — who turned in competitive seasons last fall.

Given the history and large turnout that the Mt. Blue boys program has developed over the last 23 seasons under coach Kelley Cullenberg, it will not take long for the Cougars to make another run at the KVAC A title. They will look to senior Andrew Roberts and juniors Isaiah Reid and Tucker Barber to improve on their performances this fall.

In the MVC, the stories to watch unfold this fall is whether Winthrop can improve upon its second-place finish to MVC stalwart Boothbay. The Ramblers will miss MVC champion Ben Allen but will have juniors Jacob Hickey (5th in MVC) and Caleb Fortin, along with sophomore Jesse Stevens ready to contribute.

Monmouth Academy senior Luke Thombs finished third place (18:02) at the MVC championships last October and should contend for the title again this fall.

“I’m looking to win all my big meets. I’ve been training all summer and am trying to get down into the low 16s,” Thombs said. Classmate Nick Menice shaved five minutes off his time during last season and had a top-20 finish at the MVC meet.

Other area boys runners to keep an eye on this season include Waterville senior Billy Chambers (6th in KVAC Class B, 19:05.70), Erskine senior Justin Studholme (9th in Eastern Class B, 18:12.53), as well as Maranacook seniors John Parent (14th in KVAC Class B) and Luca DeAngelis (15th in KVAC Class B).