SACO – The big surprise in cross country circles last fall was Camden Hills. Winless in 2010, the Windjammers wound up winning an Eastern Maine title before finishing second in the Class B state meet.
If you’re looking for another emergent team this year, your best bet could be Bonny Eagle.
Eighth in Class A last fall, the Scots dipped into their soccer and field hockey programs to fill out their top five and started their season in impressive fashion. At the SMAA Relays last week, in which all the No. 1 runners from each school compete together over a 1.6-mile course, followed in a second race by the No. 2 runners and so on down the line, the girls of Bonny Eagle finished either first or second in all five varsity races and won the junior varsity race to boot.
The combined time of their top five runners was nearly three minutes faster than that of three-time defending Class A state champion Cheverus, which placed second among the nine SMAA schools.
“I was expecting us to do well, but this is so much better,” said junior Kristie Glennie. “We haven’t had an amazing team for the past few years and now we have a ton of people and some strong runners. Now we’re coming out and it’s like, ‘Surprise!’ “
Glennie and senior Sam Cox finished 22nd and 15th in the Class A state meet last October. No other teammate placed among the top 60.
However, Bonny Eagle sophomore Kyuanna Libby — who placed 90th as a freshman — entered high school as a 7-minute miler. By last spring, she had dropped her time to 5:13.
“She dramatically improved to become one of the best milers in the state,” said Bonny Eagle cross country coach Chris Strout, an assistant in outdoor and indoor track.
Two members of the track team, senior Lexi Vayda and junior Mary Szatkowski, finally acquiesced to their teammates’ entreaties and gave up field hockey and soccer to join cross country.
“When you factor in those two girls, plus Kuyanna, who’s almost like a different runner at this point, it’s like getting three new runners on top of Sam, who’s been a great runner for four years now, and Kristen Glennie” Strout said, “That gives us an amazing top five.”
Whether that level of amazement is enough to dethrone Cheverus or even match Massabesic — a team that nearly always brings hardware home from the regional meet, if not the state meet — will become clearer when the three of them run together in a meet at post-Leonardi Kennebunk in two weeks.
“It’s early in the season,” Strout cautioned. “I don’t want them to run fast now. I want them to run fast in late October.”
In the meantime, the Scots are enjoying a roster with 18 girls, nearly double that of last year’s squad. They put up signs in school hallways last spring and during the first week of classes, extolling the virtues of cross country and welcoming new runners. A core group ran together a week all summer.
“We have a dedicated, motivated team,” Cox said. “We’re always working hard, but we also have a lot of fun. We have team dinners, go to football games together, hang out at the beach together.”
Last year Strout brought in a blank piece of wood from his basement and established a Runner of the Week award to reward effort and dedication. Each recipient added something, so by season’s end it had become a piece of art festooned with paint, pictures, trail maps, winged shoes and its own stand, courtesy of Libby and her dad.
It went home for the last time, by a vote of the team, with Gaelyn Lindauer, now a senior and the erstwhile No. 5 runner. Junior Audrey Weyand, another frequent scorer from last fall and a New England qualifier at 600 meters indoors last winter, won the JV race at the SMAA Relays and may find herself running sixth for the Scots.
“A lot of girls on our team have gotten bumped down,” Strout said, “not because they’ve gotten any worse, it’s just that we have so many more people. We went from eight or nine last year to 18. So then you have more opportunity for one girl to have everything click.”
If the Scots return from Belfast in late October clutching a polished piece of wood with a gleaming metal faceplate, don’t be surprised.
As Cox told Szatkowski over the summer, “Mary, if you run with us, we could even try for the state title. Bonny Eagle’s never had a state title before.”
Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: