Winthrop boys cross country coach Ed Van Tassel is excited, and with good reason.

Despite returning just six runners, Van Tassel is confident the Ramblers can ascend the Mountain Valley Conference and improve on last season’s sixth-place finish.

This summer, freshman James Cognata won state titles in New Jersey (800 meters and 1,500) and in Maine (200 and 400) at USA Track and Field youth events.

Lawrence’s Josiah Webber finished 6th in the Laliberte Invitational on Aug. 30 in Augusta. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

“He certainly comes with a lot more pedigree than I’m used to getting in freshman runners. He’s a humble kid and has done a nice job of clicking with the other kids,” said Van Tassel.

Along with Cognata, Winthrop features strong returning runners in seniors Zakary St. Germain and Loal Vance, along with junior Chase Keezer — all of whom finished in the top 13 at the MVC championship meet last October.

“I would say all four of my pack runners have a chance to qualify for states. The question is where do we find our fifth runner? The boys know we don’t have a lot of depth,” Van Tassel added.

Winthrop will again compete with Monmouth in the MVC. Junior Joe Crocker, who was fourth in the MVC meet last year, leads the Mustangs.

“The numbers are up in quality and quantity with the largest team in recent memory,” said 19-year Monmouth coach Tom Menendez.

Cony coach Shawn Totman also returns a strong pack of runners, including senior Myles Quirion, junior Jacob Pelletier, sophomore Brodi Freeman and freshman Sam Coffin. Casey Gallant should also perform well for the Rams this fall.

“I would characterize them as unproven with lots of potential. I just get the feeling that they are emerging into their own,” Totman said.

Lawrence is experiencing a program rebirth, giving 18-year coach Tim Alberts reason for optimism. The Bulldogs had a large turnout and will feature some depth in a competitive Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A.

With three returning junior runners in Josiah Webber, Sean Ames and Zachary Delile, coupled with a host of newcomers, a strong foundation is in place.

Like Lawrence, Maranacook also seeks a new identity.

“The boys team lost a number of seniors to graduation last year but has worked incredibly hard over the summer to stay in top physical shape,” said second-year Black Bears coach Jay Nutting.

Spencer Dyer, who finished 16th at the KVAC B race last fall, leads the Black Bears.

“I want to get in the top 10 or 15 statewide and make myself known to other runners and make first-team all-KVAC,” said Dyer.

Erskine and Skowhegan are looking to continue to grow their programs.

“We have lot of new kids getting used to the sport. We will have a full team and just trying to put it together,” said Erskine boys coach David Currier.

The Eagles are led by junior Paul Slimm, who was 21st at the KVAC Class B meet last season after taking up the sport in the beginning of the season.

Skowhegan coach Jim Goodwin has no seniors this year but said “the boys usually have enough runners to score.”

Junior Cam Smart leads Skowhegan.

“He made a goal of states last year and came up a bit short but he’s been putting the time in,” Goodwin said about his top runner.

At Mt. Blue, the Cougars will have a lot of new runners, but coach Kelley Cullenberg is optimistic about a strong season.

“On paper it would look like we would be way back in the standings but I think we can be as strong as last year (6th in KVAC Class A) based on the new kids we have on the roster and the returners coming back in better shape than last year,” she said.

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