CUMBERLAND — Running cross country, for many athletes, was a way to keep in shape for their primary sport.
Now it appears, at least in Maine high school circles, some of those other sports may provide a stepping stone to cross country.
Mary Szatkowski and Kialeigh Marston of Bonny Eagle both switched to trails after first kicking soccer balls. A former field hockey player, Lexi Vayda, helped the Scots win their first cross country state title last fall.
The two reigning Class C girls’ regional champions, Carsyn Koch of Washburn and Sophia Canning of Waynflete, both played in and won regional soccer quarterfinals Tuesday.
Ben Decker of Yarmouth, a four-year soccer player, placed fourth in the Western Class B regional last weekend and plans to make running his collegiate sport.
The decision makes sense, particularly when considering the Mainers who make a national ripple in ball-and-stick sports vs. those who do so in distance running: Abbey Leonardi (now at Oregon), Matt McClintock (now at Purdue), Ben True, Matt Lane, Louis Luchini, Anna Willard and that organic gardener from Freeport, Joan Something-or-other.
“I think kids can look at it and see there’s a clear path that other people have followed,” said Falmouth co-coach Jorma Kurry. “It’s been done and even kids from some small towns can make it to the highest levels.”
The next great runner to emerge from Maine might be found on the trails of Twin Brook Recreation Area on Saturday, when the state championship meets take place. Races in Class B get underway at 11 a.m., followed by Class C at 12:30 p.m., and Class A at 2.
Each individual winner qualifies for the New England championships Nov. 9 in Manchester, N.H., as do those with the next 22 fastest times regardless of class.
Maine also sends six teams to Manchester: The three class champions and, after the entire day’s races are rescored as one meet, the next three lowest-scoring teams.
“The goal is to be one of the top five in the state to get back to the New Englands,” said Freeport Coach Brian Berkemeyer, whose Falcons have been promised the opportunity to cut Berkemeyer’s hair if they meet the challenge.
Here’s a look at each of the six state championship races:
CLASS A GIRLS: Defending state champion Bonny Eagle won the West Regional last Saturday despite a nonscoring performance from Audrey Weyand, who had consistently finished among her team’s top four. Should Weyand rebound at the state meet, East contenders Brunswick and Hampden Academy likely will battle Massabesic and Falmouth – whose top runner, Madeline Roberts, is also due for a bounce-back performance – for second place.
Marston won the West regional and the Festival of Champions. Szatkowski and Cony freshman Anna Guadalupi will contend.
CLASS A BOYS: Massabesic won the 2012 state title over Lewiston despite having a longer total and average time. The Blue Devils are deeper this year, however, so a repeat performance is unlikely. West champion Scarborough, which won three of the previous four state championships, will be poised should Lewiston falter.
Individually, Thornton Academy’s Ryan Cadorette and Josh Horne of Mt. Blue won regional titles, and Scarborough’s Colin Tardiff and Jacob Terry are a threat to win.
CLASS B GIRLS: Mt. Desert Island is bidding for a third straight state title with a dominant squad that placed five in the top eight of the East regional meet and seven in the top 13. The Trojans ran away with the Festival of Champions and are likely to do likewise Saturday.
Western champion Freeport, along with Cape Elizabeth, Greely and Falmouth, remains in the running for a New England berth.
Individually, 2012 runner-up Kirstin Sandreuter of Greely returned from a three-week injury layoff to win the West region handily. Aleta Looker of Ellsworth looks to be the only serious threat.
CLASS B BOYS: Cape Elizabeth and Ellsworth won their respective regionals by wide margins. Whether the Capers can repeat may depend on their No. 3 runner, senior Will Britton, who has been out with a foot injury, providing a complement to the 1-2 punch of classmates Liam Simpson and Peter Doane.
“He’s totally healthy,” said Cape Elizabeth Coach Derek Veilleux.
Individually, Dan Curts of Ellsworth is favored to repeat, but teammate Bryan Beardsley, the Cape duo and Will Shafer of Gray-New Gloucester will also be factors.
CLASS C GIRLS: Waynflete will battle Eastern champ Orono and defending champion Washburn for the title. Until last fall, no Eastern Maine team had won in Class C since Mattanawcook Academy in 1997.
Individually, Koch and Canning provide an intriguing matchup. Koch focused exclusively on cross country last fall but has returned to playing soccer again as a senior. Canning only has a few races under her belt. Hannah Austin of North Yarmouth Academy also figures to be in contention.
CLASS C BOYS: Western champ Boothbay Region is looking for its second state title in five years. Eastern champ Orono and Western runner-up Merriconeag will contend.
Individually, Josef Holt-Andrews of Telstar will run away from the field. His 15:54 clocking at Saturday’s Western regional was one of only four sub-16 times by Maine schoolboys at Twin Brook. The others: Will Geoghegan (15:43) of Brunswick, True (15:45) of Greely, Nate Hathaway (15:46) of Scarborough and McClintock (15:52) of Madison.
Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or:Gjordan@pressherald.comTwitter: GlennJordanPPH