BELFAST — Cross country coaches thinking strategically about next year’s Western Maine regional championships might want to adopt an unusual approach.

Don’t win.

Neither Scarborough nor Freeport nor Merriconeag managed to win a championship plaque last Saturday at Twin Brook Recreation Area in Cumberland, but all three schools won state titles on a raw and increasingly wet Saturday at Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast.

Those three schools joined individual champions Aaron Willingham of Mt. Blue in Class A, Mitchell Morris of Cape Elizabeth in Class B and Matthew Toussaint of Fort Kent in Class C.

“It was awful, it was hard to breathe, it was really cold,” said Scarborough junior Connor Doherty of conditions in the Class A race, which got even worse for runners in Class B. “But you have to put that past you and focus on picking people off.”

Perhaps nobody picked off more runners expected to finish ahead of them than Doherty, Scarborough’s fifth runner much of the season who was third last week and second Saturday, 14th overall.

Nearly two miles through the 3.1-mile course, Doherty found himself alongside Scarborough’s usual No. 2 runner, classmate Colin Tardiff.

“I was like, Wow, I’m with Colin Tardiff. Slow down a little!,” Doherty said. “But I realized that Falmouth was right up with us, so I was like, I have to go now if we’re going to get this.”

Falmouth had beaten Scarborough by three points last weekend at Twin Brook and packed its top five runners among the top 25 in Saturday’s state championship, led by runner-up Bryce Murdick, who came within a second of Willingham’s winning 16:00 in the day’s best finish. It wasn’t quite enough, however, as the Red Storm responded with senior Jacob Terry in fourth, Doherty, Tardiff and fellow junior Andrew Sholl 14-16-17 and senior Jacob Bloom in 22nd.

“I don’t know whether I’ve ever been more impressed with a team,” said Scarborough Coach Jim Harmon. “They all knew what they had to do, but the most impressive thing is, they did exactly what you could have hoped for.”

Freeport’s victory in Class B might have been the biggest surprise of the day. The Falcons had never won a boys’ cross country title and last week finished fourth in Western Maine, behind York, Greely and Cape Elizabeth.

Junior Liam Gallagher, who barely broke 20 minutes last week on the way to a 57th-place finish, cut more than a minute from his time Saturday and dropped his personal best by half a minute to place 30th and complete Freeport’s top five.

That improvement, combined with a runner-up finish by junior Chandler Vincent, a ninth from junior Erik Brobst and a 16-18 finish from sophomore Henry Jaques and senior Tyler Frey, was enough to put a 21-point gap on York with two-time defending champion Cape Elizabeth another 14 points behind.

Individually, Morris pulled away to win by 13 seconds in 16:13 after allowing Vincent to take a brief lead with a mile remaining.

“I wanted to let him think that he beat me, because it was toward the end,” Morris said. “Then, coming up a gradual uphill, which I typically do very well at, I surged past him so I could lose him on a steep up-and-down.”

In Class C, Merriconeag lost the regional in a tiebreaker to defending state champion Boothbay Region.

“We were certainly disappointed,” said senior co-captain Lars Gundersen, “but I think it really served as a motivation for this race.”

Indeed, Merriconeag placed sophomore Tucker Pierce (fourth) and freshman Nick Neveau (seventh) ahead of Boothbay’s first finisher and senior Zach Neveau (ninth. Sophomore Dylan Wu (25th) and Gundersen (42nd) completed the quintet to beat Boothbay by eight points and runner-up Orono by six.

The boys state title is the first for Merriconeag, which has more than half of its school population (25 of 47) running this fall.

Joining Merriconeag in qualifying for the New England championships next weekend in Connecticut are the other two state champions along with Falmouth, Massabesic and Windham. Individuals with the fastest 25 times – below 16:52 – regardless of class also qualified.


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