BAR HARBOR — In a sport that requires athletes to traverse long distances, members of the Mount Desert Island cross-country team never stray too far from one another.
As those who’ve followed the MDI cross-country team in recent years are aware, the Trojans’ pack-running strategy is not necessarily anything new. Year after year, the model proves consistent on a multitude of levels; the Trojans run with a purpose, run with joy and, above all, run together.
“On our hard-work days, we go really hard, push each other and encourage each other, and on our more flushed-out days, we have good conversation and check in on each other’s mental health,” MDI senior Grace Munger said. “We want to make sure we’re all in the right place physically and mentally. It’s something that goes beyond just running.”
It’s an approach that has resulted in MDI’s boys’ and girls’ winning meet after meet in recent seasons. This year, it’s led the Trojans to one of their best-ever campaigns – one that yielded two more championships Saturday ahead of the season’s grand finale.
MDI claimed boys’ and girls’ Class B North titles in Saturday’s regional championship meet at Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast. The wins marked repeat championships in both events for the Trojans, who will aim to cap off the season with state titles this coming weekend.
On the girls’ side, MDI crowned an individual champion Saturday as Amelia VanDongen placed first in the Class B North girls’ race. The freshman crossed the finish line in 19 minutes, 39.69 seconds to beat out Waterville’s Abby Williams by nearly 20 seconds.
Munger (sixth place, 20:24.01) and AyliGrace Munro (seventh place, 20:27.76) added top-10 finishes for the MDI girls. Callan Eason (11th, 21:02.49), Ella Joyce (13th, 21:20.13), Meri Rainford (14th, 21:20.13) and Piper Soares (15th, 21:21.39) rounded out the rest of the finishers for the Trojans.
“We want our runners to ask themselves, ‘Am I emotionally strong today? Am I able to withstand changes in the race?’ and ‘Am I physically strong? Am I able to really focus on the positive aspects and keep working when I’m tired?’” MDI head coach Desiree Sirois said. “I think you see that in Amelia because she’s at the front, but you also see that in our runners in the middle and in the back.”
The MDI girls claimed their sixth team title in seven meets this season with the win. The Trojans, who scored 30 points, prevailed fairly comfortably even as they faced strong new challengers in Cony (second place, 59 points) and Waterville (third place, 75 points).
On the boys’ side, Penobscot Valley Conference champion Sam York had another strong race in Saturday’s Northern Maine meet. York crossed the finish line in 16:45.61 to take second place in the 94-runner field.
Spencer Rose (14th place, 17:58.25), Tucker James (20th place, 18:19.16) and Liam McKernan (22nd, 18:23.93) finished in the top quarter of the field for the MDI boys, and Callahan Bryer (34th, 18:47.83) rounded out the Trojans’ point-scoring runners. Sam Craighead (37th, 18:52.53) and Jay Haney (42nd, 19:11.35) added top-half finishes in MDI.
With 12 schools fielding enough boys’ runners to earn team scores, the battle for first place was a stiff one. Ultimately, MDI earned 81 points as a team to edge out runner-up John Bapst (91 points) and third-place Caribou (91 points, lost third-runner tiebreaker to Bapst) for the regional crown.
MDI’s success in recent years has come regardless of which runners have come and gone. From talented youngsters to experienced veterans, the Trojans seem to have a never-ending pipeline of athletes capable of contributing in a variety of ways.
“We have awesome middle school running programs where we live, so we’re really lucky,” Munger said. “From there, I think we just make our team a welcoming place for anybody who wants to run. It doesn’t matter whether you’re new to the team or you’re a senior or whether you’re running or cheering on your teammates; you’re just as important as anyone else.”
Racing on the Troy Howard Middle School course, Sirois said, is always one of the highlights of any cross-country season. Unlike other courses, where runners disappear into secluded areas for significant portions of the race, the Belfast course provides a much more viewing-friendly atmosphere.
“You get to be a part of it, and you can share that moment by cheering and being there with the spectators,” Sirois said. “You don’t just send them off into the woods and wait for them to come back around; you get to experience something together. That’s really cool.”
MDI will be back at Troy Howard Middle School on Saturday, Oct. 30, for the state championships. The Class B portion of the day will begin with the girls’ race at 1:40 p.m. with the boys’ race set to follow at 2:20.
A year ago, the last-second cancellation of the state cross-country championships denied MDI the chance to cap off the 2020 season in proper fashion. Fresh off conference and regional championships, the Trojans are positioned to challenge for the state crowns for which they were unable to compete last year.
“That was a true bummer, but it taught us not to take anything for granted,” Munger said. “Our goal every time is to run as best as we possibly can no matter what day it is, and we’ll be ready to do that again [on Saturday].”