It’s state championship week for high school cross country teams throughout the state. Miles have been logged throughout the season, a gradual buildup to Saturday, when the elite are seperated from the pack of the best runners at the Twin Brooks course in Cumberland.

But what happens during the actual week leading up to states? Is the training heavier? Lighter? Is it more of a mental buildup, learning as much about the course — all of its nooks and crannies — as possible?

According to area coaches — as well as two runners seeking Class B titles — strategies can vary.

A COACH’S PERSPECTIVE

Monmouth cross country coach Tom Menendez enters the Class C championships with almost a bittersweet feeling.

The Mustangs girls qualified for states last week at the regional championships in Belfast, a week after capturing another Mountain Valley Conference title.

But it could have been better, as Menendez explained. Several of his runners were battling sickness.

“I had three of my top seven girls sick,” Menendez said. “One of them got off the bus throwing up; she didn’t run. I had one start throwing up at about the two-mile mark, I had one throwing up at about the mile mark. We ended up qualifying, but I don’t think we had our best race, because they were sick.”

Thankfully, the Monmouth runners are feeling better, preparing to take on teams the likes of Maranacook — which won the Class C South regional girls title last week — as well as Saint Dominic, Waynflete and Maine Coast Waldorf. In physical preparation for states, Menendez is lightening the load for his runners. Weather has also played a factor this week in training.

“We do have workouts, but we’re tapering,” Menendez said. “The intensity, the volume, it’s all being cut back bit by bit. The heavy rains (during the week) really helped cut it back a bit. We’ve done a lot of the work, now it’s just the mental preparation, getting to the starting line healthy and enjoying the journey. For 99 percent of the teams, this is it (for the season).”

Instead of hard work physically, Menendez goes over race plans with each runner. He goes about it with democratic leadership, allowing runners to determine a strategy, while he adds some pointers along the way. It’s a strategy, he says, that helps make each runner comfortable on the course, and possibly boost confidence as well in regards to attacking their own gameplan.

“I sort of let them tell me how they want to run it, then give them some advice,” Menendez said. “My seniors, this will be the sixth or seventh time they’ve run there. They’re pretty familiar with it. We’ll have a group discussion about it. (The seniors) will lead it, then the underclassmen that haven’t run it as many times, they’ll listen in and get some information with them. I’ve raced it and I’ve coached on it, and I’ll just put in my two cents worth here and there.”

Course knowledge is also helpful. The Waterville cross country team hadn’t raced at Twin Brook in two years. So coach Hannah Bard decided to take the team to the course to prepare.

“We only go for states (at Twin Brook) every other year,” Bard said. “Our new runners — if they’re not juniors — have never seen Twin Brooks. It’s a hard course. It’s not Belfast. It’s a technically hard course. So we went out there this summer and practiced on it. This week, when I’m talking to the athletes (during training) ‘OK, we’re doing this hill today. When you’re on this hill I want you to think about (a certain) part of the course at Twin Brooks. When you’re on this section of the hill, you should be thinking about this part of the course.’ For us, our runners really like that.”

Like Menendez, Bard had a bittersweet day last week at regionals, but for different reasons. The Purple Panther boys — exceeding its own expecations — finished tied for second with Mt. Desert Island with 84 points, just four points behind regional champion Hermon.

“I think (last week) was a real eye-opener for the boys,” Bard said. “We had a big talk with them about how regionals is about your team. You’re no longer running for your individual splits or your individual records, you are now running for your team. I think the boys really took that to heart. We saw a fire in them (at regionals) that we have not seen….I think where we came up a bit short — tying for second — was really bittersweet. We had no business being anything but fourth, and fourth by quite a lot. But then to come in within five points of the winner — and to tie for second — I think that made the boys realize, ‘Hey, we can do this.’ I think that’s how the boys are thinking this weekend. We’re a team, and we can do a lot on Saturday.”

THE VETERAN

Nick Dall is no stranger to state championship meets.

The Waterville junior won the KVAC B and regional crowns last year, then finished fourth at states.

Battling back from a knee injury this season, Dall managed to finish second at KVACs, and defended his regional title last week with a time of 16:41.50.

For this week, Dall has focused on making sure to get plenty of rest after training.

“This week I’ve just been focusing on recovering from each run, just getting my legs ready for the race,” Dall said.

The real test, Dall says, comes from the mental aspect for a runner. Especially keeping emotions in check in such a big race.

“I try not to get too excited, I just try to stay calm,” Dall said. “If you get too worked up and you go out too fast, then you basically get really tired the rest of the race. I just try to stay as composed as possible so I can execute my plan.”

Another part of the mental preparation comes during races themselves, as Dall is able to scout other top runners. That information during the regular season comes in handy in the postseason.

“I know all the top guys, I know a lot about their strengths and their weaknesses,” Dall said. “I just try to pick out their weaknesses and try to exploit them.”

Confidence helps, which was aided with Dall’s performance last weekend. Physically and mentally set, Dall is ready for Saturday.

“It was nice to get some momentum for states,” Dall said. “I’m feeling great. I’m just really excited.”

THE ROOKIE

Unlike Dall, Olivia Tiner is not sure what to expect Saturday.

Tiner, a freshman at Winslow, has quickly asserted herself as one of the best female runners in the state. She won the KVAC B crown and last week won the regional title with a time of 19:38.47, more than a minute than the second-place finisher.

Needless to say, Tiner is a favorite to complete the sweep and nab her first state title. And like any young runner about to enter their first major race, there’s some nerves.

“Nervous is the best descriptive word,” Tiner said. “I’m a freshman, so I don’t really know much about this stuff. But the team has been really supportive and helping me out with preparations. We’ve been doing a lot of speed workouts, that’s what (coach John Salvato) usually has us doing, which is awesome and really helpful for getting up hills.”

Tiner — who has finished within the top three in every race she’s participated in this season — did not imagine she would get off to such a strong start.

“This was a happily unexpected surprise,” Tiner said.

Salvato praised Tiner’s natural ability as well as her work ethic in aiding her quick success.

“Olivia is a hard worker and a gifted runner,” Salvato said. “She was a very capable runner at the eighth grade level, one of the few who sort of moved quickly. She’s just adapted quickly to the demands of the schedule and the type of workouts that I have to offer and she’s done very well. She has great parents that support her, has a great work ethic. And she loves running, loves being on a team. I’ve got a good team that supports each other and likes to work with each other and encourage each other. I think she’s flourished because of that.”

And though it’s a first for Tiner, she’s entering the race with a veteran mindset. Since there’s no previous experience with the race, Tiner plans to run, and run hard.

“It doesn’t matter how I place, it doesn’t matter what time I get,” Tiner said. “If I can answer two questions: Did I push the hardest? And did I do my best? That’s all I care about with practices and races.”

David Dyer — 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: @Dave_Dyer

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