It may come as no surprise, but James Cognata is off to a hot start for the Winthrop boys cross country team.

Cognata — who grew up in Winthrop but spent the past four years in New Jersey before moving back over the summer — has had Top-10 finishes to each of his three regional meets to start the year. He finished seventh (18:34.40) at a Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference meet at Maranacook High School in Readfield on Sept. 6. He’s been even more dominant in Mountain Valley Conference races, finishing second (19:40.30) at a home meet Sept. 20, and third (18:15.00) at an MVC meet at Boothbay on Friday.

A freshman, Cognata begins his high school career fresh off the heels of an incredible summer. Cognata finished first in the 400-meter dash (54.22) in the 13-14 age range at the USA Track and Field Maine Youth Outdoor Championships last month. In June, Cognata won state titles in the 800 (2:05.88) and the 1,500 (4:24.85) at the USATF Junior Olympic championships in New Jersey.

The early success hasn’t been much of a surprise to Winthrop head coach Ed Van Tassel.

“Working with him this summer, I sort of got a taste of what this kid’s natural (skill) is, but also the work ethic,” Van Tassel said. “It’s unusual for me to get a kid as a freshman that already kind of knows everything. Just (an athlete) that’s run some miles, got some races. I’ve never had a kid that’s come in and competed at the national level. He just kind of has an understanding for how things work.”

Cognata has also held up well with state-wide competition. One of his earliest meets was at the Southern Maine Classic in Gorham on Sept. 14. He finished with a time of 17:40.48, 13th-best among freshmen and sophomores at the meet.


With Cognata already posting strong times so early in his career, Van Tassel said Cognata will have to learn how to fight for smaller gains in regards to faster times over the next three years.

“Mark Hachey, who ran in New Englands his senior year, running low 16 (minutes) his senior year…he was running 26 minutes as a freshman,” Van Tassel said. “Improvement is going to come a lot harder for James. When you’re running 18:30 as a freshman, well, where do you go from there? You’re not taking 10 minutes off that time. It’s not happening. It will be a little bit of different process.”


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The Mt. Blue girls cross country team had a strong 2018 season, finishing third in Kennebec Valley Conference Class A, third in Class A North, and a 10th place finish at the Class A championships.


One of the questions entering the 2019 season was how the depth level would be for the Cougars behind senior Kahryn Cullenberg, the team’s top runner.

That early question may have been answered.

Emma Charles — who finished third at the KVACs last season — leads a potent group of young runners that includes sophomore Brynne Robbins and freshman Bridget Reusch.

“I’ve been really impressed,” Mt. Blue head coach Kelley Cullenberg said. “They’re really understanding how the whole team thing works…Bridget and Moriah (Reusch) are currently running fourth and fifth for us, and they’re both freshmen, it’s been really awesome to watch the older kids encourage and kind of almost do a little coaching on the side to get those girls to understand what their potential is, and where they might be able to be. It’s been great.”

Charles has consistently proven herself this season as the team’s second-best runner, taking a fourth-place finish (20:48.00) at a KVAC event Sept. 20 at Leavitt High School in Turner, and finished second overall behind Cullenberg (20:58.66) at a meet Thursday at Lincoln Academy in Newcastle.

Robbins had a sixth-place finish at Leavitt, and a third-place finish behind Cullenberg and Charles at Lincoln Academy. Reusch finished in ninth-place and sixth-place, respectively, at both events.


Cullenberg continues to stake her claim as one of the top female runners in the state, finishing at the top of each race this season, with a top time of 20:12.00 at the Leavitt meet.


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One of the state’s biggest meets will be held in Belfast on Saturday, as the time nears for the annual Festival of Champions.

The meet, which includes schools from all classes across the state, as well as schools from throughout New England, is considered a yard-marker for the season, giving coaches a chance to compare their runners with some of the best in Maine. It also gives them one of the few chances during the season to scout some top runners they may not see again until the conference and state championships.


“For us, it’s chance to get on a fast course and be in an exciting environment,” Winthrop coach Ed Van Tassel said.

Mt. Blue head coach Kelley Cullenberg is excited to put her team in the mix with the best in the region.

“It is kind of a benchmark to be able to see how we stack up, and what work needs to be done,” Cullenberg said. “I think as far as the Mt. Blue teams go, I think the girls are just really going to have an eye-opener as far as capabilities, and I’m really looking forward to that. I think on the boys side, we’re down a little bit in terms of having someone who may be out there with the leaders, but we have an incredible pack.”

Bangor’s Gabe Coffey (15:54.51) was the top overall male runner last season, while Falmouth’s Sophie Matson (18:21.52) was the top overall female runner.


Dave Dyer — 621-5640

Twitter: @Dave_Dyer

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