BREWER — The starter’s gun fired its blank and Kate Hall was suddenly out of her blocks running one, two, three strides ahead of everyone else. An audible gasp came from the crowded grandstand as one 16-year-old girl separated easily from the seven others who started the 100-meter dash with her.
She’s the home-schooled junior who represents Lake Region High of Naples. She won four events Saturday, breaking three of her own Class B records. She’s nationally ranked in the long jump but more jaws drop when she runs. She sprints powerfully and gracefully. In this state, no one catch her. No one can come close.
Hall streaked across the finish line alone in a time of 11.81 seconds, smashing her own year-old record of 12.12. And this was just one of the three preliminary races in the 100. Applause followed her jog across the Brewer Community Track to the long jump pit. The second of her four events in the state Class B track and field championship was about to start.
A big smile was plainly visible. “I just love the crowds,” she said later Saturday. Then why is she so good at running away from them?
It took her a few seconds to understand I meant running away from the crowd of runners chasing a thoroughbred. Her hand flew to cover her mouth. She didn’t know how to respond because she’s Kate, the happy, down-to-earth wonder girl who doesn’t want to show up anyone even as she does.
“It’s not about me beating anyone else,” she said before jumping onto the medals stand to get her first-place medal for the triple jump, an event she added to her to-do list last week. “I just try to do my best.”
She may be genuinely sweet but don’t underestimate her intensity or competitiveness.
“She’s a class act,” said Kaitlin Saulter of Hermon High, who won the 400-meter dash in record time but took second to Hall in the 200. Hall won in 24.36 seconds, obliterating her record of 25.49 set last year. Breaking a record by more than a full second in a race as short as the 200 is astonishing.
Visually it was almost incomprehensible. The reaction of those watching her run for the first time is almost always the same: No way. No (fill in a too-strong adjective) way.
“My strength is chasing runners (and catching them),” said Saulter, whose time of 25.84 was a personal best but still a second and a half behind Hall. “She was gone.”
I heard the same respect from opponents who tried to guard Cindy Blodgett or Andy Bedard on a high school basketball court. Or tried to hit a curveball pitched by Mark Rogers. Or somehow tried to prevent quarterback Ben Lucas from completing one of his passes to a Cony High receiver last fall. Hall is in their class, bringing new attention to a sport that deserves more.
State high school track meets are a circus of sights, sounds, one-act dramas and comedies. Over the last 80 meters of the 800, you couldn’t tell if Dan Curts of Ellsworth or Ben Trapani of Camden Hills was going to win. Curts had the lead, lost it to Trapani but won at the finish. Earlier, Curts outkicked or outlasted Will Shafer of Gray-New Gloucester in a duel in the 1,600.
Then there was Austin Williams of Freeport, who won the slower heat of the 800 and didn’t believe he medaled until his athletic director found him and told him to get to the medal stand pronto. Williams arrived out of uniform. He had already removed his Freeport shirt. He ran back to teammate Harrison Stivers: quick, give me your shirt. Williams had the sixth-best time Saturday – the top seven earn points. He earned his first and only state meet points.
“On the last day of my career,” said Williams, a senior, “I learned how to win a race. This is unbelievable.”
It was Kirstin Sandreuter of Greely standing atop the medals stand after winning the 3,200-meter run, turning to Heather Evans of York and Lauren Brown of Waterville, coordinating a combined jump off the stand to the delight of those watching.
It was Hall winning the long jump and breaking her third record and running to the other end of the complex for the start of the 100-meter finals. Mark Snow, her coach, called after her asking if she had her running shoes. She didn’t. She was still wearing her jumping shoes.
“It’s OK, Coach,” she said. “I’ll shake the sand out of them.” She did, won the 100, and smiled and laughed again.