CAPE ELIZABETH – Kelsey Barton had just cooled down after running an event at the Class B outdoor track and field championships last year when she heard an announcement on the public-address system.

“I’m standing there and I hear the announcer say, ‘Third place, Cape Elizabeth, 20 points,’ ” recalled Barton, a junior distance runner for the Capers. “I was like, ‘What?’ “

When it sank in for Barton and her teammates that the Capers could surprise others at the Class B championships, it motivated them.

Despite their small numbers at state championship meets, the Capers have become one of the state’s top Class B girls’ track and field teams.

“We go into the championship meets for the experience and to have fun,” said Hannah Doss, a senior distance runner. “Track’s not only a team sport but it’s also an individual sport. If you meet your individual goals, your team goals will go up.”

The Capers finished sixth at the Class B outdoor championships last year and were fourth at the indoor championships in February. The Capers have remained competitive despite running against teams four to five times their size, such as York, Waterville and Greely — teams that field at least 80 to 100 athletes.

“Walking into meets, we have our little team and you look somewhere else, and half of a hill is taken up by a team like York,” said Rachel Nichols, a junior distance runner. “It can be intimidating, but we know we have the skill to compete.”

Without individual success, there may not be team success.

The Capers, who have 20 girls this year, have become one of the state’s top teams by maximizing their abilities.

Last spring, eight Cape athletes qualified for the state meet, and they scored 42 points, including two state championships — the 3,200-meter relay team of Nichols, Barton, Marita Stressinger and Emily Attwood, and an individual winner, Emma Hockmuth, who graduated after capturing the pole vault title.

“As the season goes on, you find kids who may spark a bit or who might discover that, ‘hey, I might be able to go somewhere with this,’ ” Cape Elizabeth Coach Doug Worthley said. “Or maybe kids decided to buy into themselves. It takes a lot of perseverance and dedication to do it.

“It’s not like the soccer team where you do something and everyone’s rooting for you. The athletes who are running track are running for themselves, and it benefits the team.”

The numbers, Barton said, have gone down in her three years of competing. So the Capers have to make a pitch to their classmates.

“We try to sell it all the time,” Doss said. “It’s laid-back in the spring and the team dynamic is really good, and when you run track in the spring, you stay in shape, you help out with the team, and you’re going to have fun.”

Worthley’s initial concern about drawing fewer athletes is that individual success might be a deterrent to some athletes. But Worthley also looks at the benefit from another angle — it might be a motivator for an individual.

“If you have someone that good, it makes it harder to recruit kids because they may be intimidated and think, ‘I may not be as good as this kid,’ ” Worthley said. “There’s always going to be someone who comes in and is a spitfire from the start, and with girls who run with Rachel Nichols, they may not be at her level, but they may train with her and realize, ‘hey, I might be able to do this.’ “

Nichols, however, provides a different perspective.

“You don’t have to be a star to be on the team,” Nichols said. “Throughout the season, everyone competes. You will always get a chance to perform and to compete.”

Cape’s strength at state meets come in the distance events — Doss, Barton and Nichols are part of a core of runners who train year-round — but for the athletes who do come out for track and field, Barton believes the incentive isn’t just winning. There are further benefits.

“It makes it less intense,” Barton said. “We know that we can have fun and have the ability to compete and reach our personal-best goals.”

 

Staff Writer Rachel Lenzi can be reached at 791-6415 or at: [email protected]