Editor’s note: This is the 15th installment of our new series, “Remember When,” in which we revisit some of the memorable games, events, streaks and runs in high school spring sports we’ve covered over the last few decades.

Bethanie Brown remembers her role in the dominance of the Waterville Senior High School girls track and field program beginning with a mistake. A freshman running the 2-mile at the Class B indoor championship at Bates College in 2010, Brown misread the finish line and stopped short. By the time she realized her error, Brown had been passed by York’s Shelly Porter for second place and eight points. In third place, Brown earned the Purple Panthers six points.

When the meet was complete, York was state champion, one point ahead of Waterville, 65-64. Never mind the Panthers could identify numerous events in which a point or two slipped away. Brown spent hours wrongly convinced she had cost her team the state championship. Through that dismal experience, Waterville track and field coach Ian Wilson’s greatest point was made to his team. Every point counts.

“After that, every other season, we won,” Brown said.

Beginning with the 2007 season, the Waterville girls outdoor track and field team set the state’s standard for track and field excellence, winning nine straight state titles. According to championship records kept by the Maine Principals’ Association web page, dating to 1959 for boys and 1973 for girls, no Maine high school track and field team won as many consecutive outdoor championships as the Purple Panthers did.

Over their nine-year stretch of preeminence, the Purple Panthers won 39 individual event championships and seven relay titles. At times, Waterville won the Class B state meet by ludicrous margins, more than doubling the runner-up’s point total in 2011 (145-63 over York) and 2013 (136-64 over Lake Region).

“The biggest thing was the culture we had. Every team gets this run of good athletes come through, and maybe it fades after a while,” said Ian Wilson, who coached the Panthers to the first eight of their nine straight championships before moving on to be an assistant coach with Colby College’s track and field program. Wilson is now head track and field coach at Thomas College. “These kids embraced the hard training. They were a mentally tough group of kids.”

Throughout the nine-year run, the constant focus for the Panthers was on individual improvement with an eye on team success. If each athlete pushed herself, the team would benefit.

Waterville track and field coach Ian Wilson was the architect of one of the most successful track and field programs in state history. Morning Sentinel file photo

“The sense of community we had, Wilson did a great job motivating us,” said Georgia Bolduc, a 2013 graduate who won the state title in the 100 meters in 2011. Bolduc went on to run at Bowdoin College, and now is in law school at Boston University. “We focused on hitting individual goals we set for ourselves, and that led to (team) winning.”

Wilson pushed his athletes, and when they saw the results, they let him push them even harder.

“To this day, he’s my favorite all-time coach I’ve had. He knew how to push you to be the best you could be, even if you didn’t see it yourself. Having somebody who believes in you so much, that’s so encouraging,” 2015 grad Sarah Shoulta said. Over three seasons, 2013-2015, Shoulta won championships in the 100 hurdles, 300 hurdles and pole vault. She went on to compete at Bates College and now works as a financial analyst in Boston.

“Wilson was unlike any other coach I’ve had. He pushed me further physically and mentally than I thought I could go. It is easy to work hard for someone you respect and trust,” Kellie Bolduc, a 2015 graduate who won state championships in the triple jump, said. She now works as a preschool teacher in the Portland area. “I would be lying if I said I could casually jog around a track today and not feel the need to push myself to run faster, harder and to perform better.”

 

TEAM DEPTH

 

Even before the gut-wrenching one point loss in the 2010 indoor championship, the Panthers knew how important every point in a meet can be. In 2007, the title that started the string, Waterville scored 99 points to second place York’s 85, all while winning two events. Danielle Fossa took Waterville’s only individual title that year, and the 4×800 relay team also earned a victory. By picking up a few points here and there across the day, the Panthers set the tone for things to come, thumping opponents upside the head with depth.

A team could win a meet with outstanding efforts from a few athletes. That was never Waterville’s style. The Panthers came at you in waves on the track, in the jumping pits, and in the throwing events. In 2008, Waterville repeated as state champion in the closest meet of the nine-year run, edging Greely, 98.5-97. Again, the Panthers’ depth was the difference, as Waterville placed two or more athletes on the podium in six events.

“We always tried to challenge the kids to be better. We were always talking about trying to improve. We would track everybody’s improvement. I knew if we maintained a 50 percent improvement rate, we’d be really tough to beat. Everybody got recognized (for improvement), from the stars to those who would never score in a meet, and that built team chemistry,” Wilson said.

The Waterville girls track and field team celebrate after winning the 2011 Class B state title at Cony High School in Augusta. The Purple Panthers enjoyed one of the most dominant runs in Maine track and field history, winning nine consecutive state titles from 2007-15. Morning Sentinel file photo

Wilson’s team-first focus carried into everything the Panthers did. When an athlete finished her events in a meet, she was expected to stay and cheer on not just teammates, but athletes from other schools. Brown recalled the team staying to cheer on pole vaulters from opposing schools as other schools boarded their buses and left.

“(Wilson) made it really clear, our goal was to be a team and win. He taught me a lot about being disciplined and being motivated. He taught me a lot about myself, and pushing myself and setting goals,” Brown said.

Brown still owns Class B state records in the 1,600 and 3,200. After running at Iowa State, Brown now works as a traveling minister in Iowa.

In 2009, the Panthers eked out another close win, 119-109 over runner-up York. Then, the routs started. The 2010 state meet saw Waterville score 168 points to York’s second-place 94. The Panthers had eight individual event champions, with Kayla Tuttle (1,600, 3,200) and Lynn Fleming (long jump, triple jump) winning two apiece.

In 2011, Waterville finished 82 points ahead of York. In 2012, the Panthers were 60 points better than Greely. In 2013, it was a 72-point win over Lake Region. By this point, the Panthers were combining their depth with elite talent at the top of many events.

“I don’t think we ever had an attitude like, we have it in the bag,” Bolduc said.

The hurdles, in particular, became a strength for Waterville.

Between 2010 and 2015, the Panthers had at least one state champion in either the 100 or 300 hurdles. Olivia Thurston in the 300 hurdles in 2010. Thurston again in 2011, winning both hurdles events. In 2012, Alex Jenson in the 100 hurdles and Thurston in the 300. In, 2013, Shoulta in the 100 hurdles. In 2014 and 2015, Shoulta swept both hurdles events.

“Trust your training. Trust the process. I agree with that. We were not focused on winning. We were focused on technique and the little things,” Shoulta said. “A lot of people view track and field as an individual sport, and it’s not.”

In 2012, Waterville placed four athletes in the top five in the 100 hurdles at the state meet. There was Jenson first, followed by Thurston and Shoulta, with Kellie Bolduc fifth. That event alone accounted for 27 of Waterville’s 145 points. In the 100 hurdles alone, the Panthers outscored 19 of the 27 teams at the meet.

Making the hurdle events property of Waterville track and field was by design, Wilson said. He noticed every team put its best athletes in the 100. Waterville would put some of the fastest in the sprints, sure, but why make a deep field deeper? Wilson steered some top athletes in the hurdles, where the Panthers could then earn more points.

“Wilson really gave us all the tools and gave is what we needed to do our best. I think everyone benefited. If somebody got faster than you, it pushed you,” Jenson said. Last year, Jenson retired from a career on the World Cup mogul skiing circuit. She’s now a student at the University of Utah, with an eye on med school.

 

FRIENDLY RIVALRIES

 

Any rivalries inside the Panthers were friendly. The idea was to get as much purple on the podium as possible. Pushing each other in practice helped make that happen.

“There was some friendly competition within the team; we all pushed each other to be better. I loved all my teammates and wanted them to succeed as much, if not more than I did,” Kellie Bolduc said.

“If they weren’t neck and neck, how would they beat competition that was neck and neck,” Brown said of her hurdling teammates. “It was a privilege to train together.”

Waterville sprinters Georgia Bolduc, left, and Olivia Thurston cross the finish line during the 200-meter dash during the 2012 Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference championship track meet on Saturday in Bath. Kennebec Journal file photo

Shoulta said many of the hurdlers learned the basics from coach Paul Pooler in junior high. When they got to high school, Wilson set up hurdles in a hallway at school, where they could practice when the track wasn’t clear.

“I don’t think a lot of other schools were practicing hurdles inside,” Shoulta said.

Wins continued to come in multiple events. In 2014, along with her wins in the 100 hurdles and 300 hurdles, Shoulta led a 1-2-3 finish in pole vault for the Panthers, with Monicah Paquette second and Gabby Bridger third. Rachael Bergeron won the shot put.

In 2015, with Wilson now at Colby, and under new coach Jonathan Alexis, the Panthers won their ninth and final consecutive state championship. Shoulta took wins in the hurdles, while Kellie Bolduc (triple jump), Lauren Brown (3,200), and Allison Linscott (high jump) also won state titles, as Waterville scored 118.25 points to ease past second place York (87 points).

Each of the athletes interviewed look back at their time on the Waterville track and field team fondly, proud to have been a part of the near decade-long run. Every point mattered.

“Before every big meet, Wilson would go through each event, and talk about what he thought each of us was capable of. That was a really tangible way for each of us to have a goal,” Georgia Bolduc said. “Wilson has an expectation, we work hard and do well. At least it motivated me. We knew what we could achieve.”

Lose a little over here, and a little over here, and suddenly a championship is out of reach

“It was some of the best years I’ve had,” Brown said. “(Wilson’s) so good at getting his athletes to focus every day, and get better every day. The result of that is championships. Championships don’t just happen.”

 

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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