A newcomer to high school cross country and still a novice to the sport, Winslow High School freshman Olivia Tiner had to overcome the initial nervousness that comes with a unknown situation.

“I had no idea how I was going to stack up against all the big kids,” Tiner said. “I went from being in eighth grade and the top (runner) in the school to very small.”

Tiner more than stacked up against the best runners. She became one of them. Tiner’s debut season included a Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference and Northern Maine Class B championships, along with a top 10 finish at the Class B state meet. For her efforts, Olivia Tiner is the Morning Sentinel Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year.

“Olivia is a very capable athlete who reaches down and tries the best she can,” Dr. John Salvato, Winslow’s cross country coach, said. “I was just expecting her to enjoy the sport and have fun.”

Tiner said she began to feel comfortable racing against high school competition a few meets into the season.

“After first two meets or so, I got back into the groove again. Competition makes me really, really nervous, but the team was really supportive and they were great. The calmed me down,” Tiner said.

Tiner was disappointed by here performance in the Laliberte preseason race, and used that as the springboard for improvement.

“I’m a freshman, I have time to improve. I have a great coach who is going to help me, so this is what I’m going to fix. I just focused on that rather than what I did wrong,” Tiner said.

By improving her breathing, for example, Tiner was able to overcome problems that seemed to hit her each race.

“For some reason, I just kept cramping up. I don’t know if it’s because I have the tiny lung capacity or what, but every single race I started cramping up,” Tiner said.

Things began to fall into place for Tiner at the Festival of Champions in Belfast on Sept. 30. The race features the top runners in the state, along with strong out of state competition. Tiner ran the Troy Howard Middle School course in 19:21.28, placing 22nd in a field of more than 750 runners.

“That was pretty nerve-wracking, that race. I didn’t really expect much of myself. It’s huge here. There’s so many people. I was really nervous. Then I realized I’m doing better. I’m improving. That’s all I worry about when I run, just to do my best,” Tiner said.

As she prepared for the conference and regional championships, Tiner’s knew she wanted to get out faster. At the Festival of Champions, she was part of a pack of 10 girls who were trampled as the course narrowed and runners jostled for position. The KVAC at Augusta’s Cony High School is especially narrow, Tiner said, and it’s hard to pass runners. Tiner knew she couldn’t get caught in the pack without space to make a move.

“I definitely wanted to make sure I got out fast enough to make sure that didn’t happen,” Tiner said. “I wanted to make sure I had room.”

Tiner won the KVAC Class B title with a time of 20:41, beating Maranacook’s Molly McGrail by 15 seconds. A week later, back in Belfast for the Northern regional meet, Tiner bear second place Abigail Wilmmer of Caribou by one minute, one second, winning in 19:38.47.

At the Class B state meet in Cumberland, Tiner placed 10th, finishing in 21:05.38. Tiner thinks she could’ve done better, and that is motivation as she enters the indoor track and field season and thinks about her sophomore year of cross country.

“Leave it all out there and be able to walk off and say I tried my best. I did my best. That’s all my goal is,” Tiner said. “I don’t care if I come in last place. If I tried my hardest and left it all out there, then that’s what I think is success… I have time. I have a great team.”

Added Salvato: “She’s hard on herself. She doesn’t want to let the team down… If she can have fun while she runs, she’ll be a great runner.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

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Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM