Audrey Blais of Lake Region leads the pack near the start of the girls’ race Friday at the Western Maine Conference cross country championships held at St. Joseph’s College in Standish.
STANDISH — Will Shafer couldn’t hide a wide smile as he crossed the final paved area and returned to the grassy start/finish area of the Western Maine Conference cross country championship race.
Nor did he try.
“That’s the first big cross country race that I’ve ever won,” he said of his toothsome grin and upraised arms. “I’ve won regular-season meets, but no conference titles or regionals or anything like that. I’ve never even been close.”
Heather Evans was slightly less effervescent, but equally as pleased. She had done this before. As a freshman, she won the WMC title in Falmouth.
Now, as a senior, she understands the difficulty of meeting expectations, both her own and those of others.
“I would be scared during a race,” she said of her sophomore and junior years, which resulted in second- and a third-place finishes at the conference championships. “It was an ‘Oh, what happens if I don’t win?’ kind of thing. I had a lot of nerves, I think.”
This fall, her senior season at York High, she pushed such fears aside and tried to focus on “time and training hard,” she said, “and it went really well.”
Evans and Shafer, a senior at Gray-New Gloucester, won individual titles on a balmy Friday afternoon on the campus of St. Joseph’s College, where the 5-kilometer course may have crossed parking lots and curbs but also offered views of Sebago Lake and the Western Mountains and foliage nearing its peak.
“It’s beautiful,” said Evans, whose time of 20 minutes, 21 seconds easily outdistanced that of runner-up Hannah Austin of North Yarmouth Academy (20:33). “You couldn’t ask for anything better.”
Falmouth senior Madeline Roberts was third in 20:47. For the conference championships, the WMC divides into a large and a small division based on enrollment, and Falmouth defended its large-school title, 31-51, over runner-up Freeport.
Greely was third at 85 and was followed by Cape Elizabeth (102), York (102), Kennebunk (162), Gray-New Gloucester (218) and Poland (228).
“I sort of view this almost as, not a practice round, because it’s a real race,” Roberts said, “but as a taste of what the real competition is going to be like at regionals (next weekend).”
Supporting Roberts for Falmouth were Vishva Nalamalapu (fifth), Antoinette Lambert (seventh), Mira Wyman (10th) and Alexa Hoffman (14) in the field of 112. Lambert and Wyman are part of a stellar freshman class.
“They’ve given us a lot of depth,” said Falmouth co-coach Jorma Kurry. “We went from having a couple good (front runners) and a decent pack to a legitimate top five. And they’re super hard workers. That freshmen group has brought a lot of drive and spark to the team.”
Yarmouth, led by Caitlin Teare’s ninth-place finish, won the girls’ smaller-school division, 27-84, over runner-up Merriconeag and five other schools.
Cape Elizabeth won the boys’ race over defending champ Falmouth in the larger-school division, 38-53. York was third at 78, followed by Gray-New Gloucester (108) and five other schools.
Fryeburg (32) beat Merriconeag (42) among small schools, with North Yarmouth Academy (61), Waynflete (118) and Wells (121) completing the scoring.
Cape Elizabeth seniors Liam Simpson and Peter Doane finished second and third behind Shafer, whose time of 16:26 was more than a minute faster than his 2012 time over the same course.
“I’ve always focused on track,” Shafer said. “This year, I decided to commit more to running. I didn’t play basketball over the summer. I just focused on getting my fitness up and it has paid huge dividends.”
Shafer, Simpson and Falmouth’s Bryce Murdick shared the lead through two miles. Shafer and Simpson pulled away in the rolling hills of the third mile, and then Shafer, who finished seven seconds behind Simpson in the Festival of Champions two weeks ago in Belfast, surged to the lead with about half a mile remaining.
“Normally I’m dead by that point,” Shafer said, “but I felt great, so I decided to try to sprint it out.”
Simpson said Shafer’s surge was impressive.
“That was really the race maker,” Simpson said. “I kept waiting for him and Bryce both to drop back at some point, but he did not, and I’m really impressed by him.”
Simpson finished eight seconds back in 16:34, followed by Doane (16:52), Murdick (17:08) and Freeport sophomore Chandler Vincent (17:11).
Mitch Morris (sixth), Kyle Kennedy (12th) and Julian Pelzer (21st) completed Cape Elizabeth’s team victory.
“We just talked about coming out here and running as a team again,” said Capers Coach Derek Veilleux. “I think we got away from that at the big invitationals where there were so many people that we didn’t run as a pack.”
More than 500 runners from 15 schools competed in varsity and junior varsity races. Regional meets are next Saturday in Cumberland (Western Maine) and Belfast (Eastern Maine).
Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at:
Will Shafer of Gray-New Gloucester shows his excitement as he approaches the finish line to win the boys’ race in a time of 16:26.
York’s Heather Evans heads toward victory in the girls’ race, with a winning time of 20:21.