BELFAST — Luke Laverdiere had learned his Festival of Champions lesson. All he needed was a chance to prove it.

On Saturday, Laverdiere got it. And he didn’t miss it.

Laverdiere, a Yarmouth High junior, took command of the Troy Howard Middle School course in Belfast, notching a time of 15:33 to win the celebrated Festival of Champions and help his team finish 17th among 61 teams with 544 points. Falmouth (127) won the team event, followed in the top five by Scarborough (177), Deering (203), Greely (228) and Lincoln (243).

“That was a 30-second PR for me. I was not expecting to go that deep into the 15s, but I’m so happy I did,” Laverdiere said. “I remember my eighth-grade year, I came up here to watch the race with my dad. … I knew from then on I wanted to be up in that league. I think I put a stamp on that right now.”

The girls race came down to a matter of seconds. Mount Desert Island’s Tia Tardy got the win at 18:32, edging out Falmouth’s Malika Pasch and Yarmouth’s Anneka Murrin by 4 seconds. Rhode Island’s Cumberland High School won the race with 131 points, followed by Greely (161), Yarmouth (208), York (210) and Harwood Union (265).

“I’m happy that I took the win, but honestly, I didn’t go into the race with that mindset,” Tardy said. “I wanted to just have a PR. … It took a lot of mental preparation this week.”

Laverdiere’s win wasn’t a wire-to-wire victory, but that was by design. The junior made a conscious effort to pace himself, always making sure he had enough energy left for the end of the famously fast track.

“I stayed in fourth or fifth, I kind of hung with the pack most of the race,” he said. “I was able to have a lot left in the last two miles to really surge.”

It was a winning strategy — and the opposite of the one Laverdiere tried in the race as a freshman. He raced out to a fast first mile that year, but was so drained by the early pace that he couldn’t make it to the finish line. He missed the race to compete in the Manchester Invitational in New Hampshire his sophomore year, and after returning to Belfast, he knew exactly what to do.

“I’m feeling so good,” he said. “I ran this race my freshman year, I went out really fast … and I completely died in the last two miles. Taking that into consideration, I really hung back and was able to haul the last few miles.”

Hampden’s Wyatt Lord (15:51), Falmouth’s Jeremiah Sands (15:58), Harwood’s Noah Eckstein (16:08) and Westbrook’s Joshua Lombardo (16:12) rounded out the top five individually. Messalonskee’s Zach Hoyle (eighth, 16:27) and Mt. Blue’s Tucker Barber (10th, 16:30) were locals in the top 10.

“I feel really good about it. I felt really strong throughout the race,” Hoyle said. “It’s the fastest course in Maine, it’s really the best. … In the KVAC area we have a lot of courses that are hilly and not the best quality. This is very well-groomed and made for speed. Everyone in our area has to change their tactics a little bit.”

Barber recovered from a slow start to post the solid time.

“I’m pretty glad I got to where I was by the end of the race,” he said. “It was kind of a rough start, and a long day. … Just kind of all over the place. It started to clear out just before the mile and it continually got easier.”

Winthrop’s Jacob Hickey (16:32) finished just outside the top 10, coming in 11th.

“I tried to stick with the leading pack and I think I did that throughout the race,” he said. “It was a quality distance run. It went out very, very fast. I tried not to go too fast, knowing that I needed to keep things in the tank for the end and the middle of the race. I think I executed that.”

In the girls race, Tardy outlasted everyone else in the top pack to take first after finishing fourth last year. The senior kept pace with the field through the fast first mile, then pulled away down the stretch — with help from her track and field background.

“I think the last 800, someone was like ‘There’s 800 meters left,’ and that’s my favorite track event,” she said. “I kind of used that in mind. I was like ‘I’m an 800 runner, let’s see how much I can do.’ “

Greely’s Katherine Leggat-Barr (18:37) and Carolyn Todd (18:45) finished fourth and fifth, respectively. Cony’s Anne Guadalupi was the top local finisher at 30th (20:09) despite battling a lingering back injury and sprained ankle that slowed her and kept her from catching up to the pack.

“It didn’t go as I planned. I was definitely hoping for a faster time,” she said. “I tried to stay with the top group for a bit, and a mile in or something I hit a brick wall. … I definitely felt (the injuries) and it was getting into my head.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM


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