For the first time all season, Merriconeag Coach Tom Ryan gave his cross country runners a plan.

Previous meets were about letting the kids run, seeing how they fared, asking them how it went. Last Monday, he asked them to set specific goals for their Western Maine Conference meet Friday at York. Both for the opening mile and for the entire 2.9-mile course.

“We asked them to commit to the race,” Ryan said. “We gave them all week to think about it.”

Ryan was out of state Friday afternoon — at his daughter Katie’s Boston College Hall of Fame induction — but the phone call from assistant coach Morgan Lake-Adams and a dozen screaming girls let him know the plan had worked well.

Merriconeag tied host York, beat defending Western Maine Class B champion Cape Elizabeth by three points and easily outdistanced Poland. Also, junior Jack Pierce won the boys’ race in a fast 15 minutes, 9 seconds.

Juniors Zoe Chace-Donahue and Teagan Wum, and freshmen Samantha Pierce and Jesse Saffeir all finished among the top 10 and within 19 seconds of each other. Behind that impressive pack, sophomore Carlin Tindall placed 14th. Although York’s sixth runner won the tiebreaker, the girls of Merriconeag, whose Class C state title last fall was the first in school history, were elated.

“It was hugely motivating for the team,” Ryan said. “I was not surprised about how well my team ran. I was surprised, though, that we beat Cape Elizabeth. Through the years they’ve been a very strong powerhouse of a team.”

In addition to the goal-setting, Ryan said Lake-Adams withheld split information from the runners after the opening mile, saying “You’re in great position!” instead of calling out their times. That’s because Pineland Farms, where Merriconeag trains, is filled with hills whereas York is flat and firm.

In some cases, Ryan said, times for the opening mile at York were 30 seconds faster than a runner’s best all-out mile at Pineland.

Farther back in the pack, Ryan was thrilled to learn that one boy had improved his time from last year by two minutes and a girl, junior Zoe Oswald, cut an astounding 6:27 from her time over the same course. Her clocking of 22:55 was faster than 14 other runners.

“She was new to the team last September and had never run a step,” Ryan said.

“Talk about sticking with it. For her to drop from a 10-minute (mile) pace to a 7:54 pace, that’s impressive. It’s so great to work with kids who listen instead of argue.”

Oddly enough, Ryan has yet to reunite with his team and won’t until Friday afternoon’s meet at Yarmouth. That’s because students at Merriconeag are on experiential learning trips this week, with freshmen and sophomores on a canoe excursion at Mooselookmeguntic Lake, juniors on a cultural visit to Quebec City and seniors camping with students from other Waldorf schools on Hermit Island in Phippsburg.

Merriconeag even broke into the Top 10 of the weekly cross country coaches’ poll for the first time.

“I think we’re pretty good, too,” Ryan said.

WEDNESDAY MARKED an anniversary for first-year Cape Elizabeth coach Eliza Eshelman and two of her runners. On Sept. 21, 2002, a 16-year-old Eshelman ran for at least 30 minutes, and has done so every day since.

She said she averages 61/2 miles per day.

Even with a variety of injuries and illnesses, including ear infections, broken ribs and IT band issues, Eshelman has dutifully done her daily run, as much a part of her routine as brushing teeth.

“Every time I have a certain ailment it makes me appreciate running even more,” Eshelman said. “Why would I take a day off if it’s something I love?”

Last spring several members of her cross country team decided to embark on streaks of their own, starting on Flag Day, June 14. Two of them reached Day 100 on Wednesday: seniors Catherine Tierney and Tori Brigham.

Tierney is Cape’s top returning runner but Brigham was doing 25-minute 5K times a year ago. On Friday, she was Cape’s first runner and fifth overall, just behind Chace-Donahue in 19:45.

“She put in the extra effort,” Eshelman said of Brigham, “and now it’s really showing.”

AMONG THE TEAMS scheduled to run the Manchester (N.H.) Invitational on Saturday: Greely, Freeport, North Yarmouth Academy and Massabesic.

Defending champions Abbey Leonardi of Kennebunk and Matt McClintock of Madison have registered for the Festival of Champions race in Belfast next Saturday, the first of October, a date that coincides with SAT testing. “A ton of seniors won’t go,” said NYA Coach Peter Sillin, “so the results at Belfast could be a little squirrely.”

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at:

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