FALMOUTH — The Falmouth High girls’ cross country team returns three runners who finished in the top 10 at the Class A championships last fall – including state champ Sofie Matson.

Any other year, that would make the Yachtsmen a clear favorite heading into a new season. But this is shaping up as an exceptional year of talent and depth in Class A.

Still, Falmouth’s coaches and runners think they have a strong shot to win their first state title.

Falmouth returns Matson, who won the Class A meet as a freshman in 18 minutes, 41.50 seconds, and senior Malaika Pasch, who was fifth (19:39.80). Karley Piers was seventh as a freshman (19:41.16).

And Falmouth has an impressive newcomer this fall. Nordic skier Eva Clement, a sophomore, will run cross country for the first time. Coach Danny Paul said she’s likely to be a strong fourth runner.

Falmouth must find a way to overcome Camden Hills, the defending Class A champion that returns eight of its top 10 runners, including senior Augusta Stockman, who finished second at the state meet (19:18.28), and Miranda Dunton, who was 14th (20:18.75).

Camden Hills Coach Helen Bonzi said her squad looks stronger this year.

“One of our top runners is injured and not back yet,” Bonzi said of Grace Iltis, who was third at the state meet (19:18.67). “But even without her, we still look incredibly strong. Our ninth and 10th runners look very strong. We just have a lot of depth. We have a freshman (Elsie Hildreth) who will easily be one of our top runners. The team looks powerful.”

Then there’s Bonny Eagle, which took fifth last year but returns three runners that placed in the top 20. Amy Beaumier was sixth (19:40.46), Kayla Raymond was eighth (19:49.62) and Christine Toy was 19th (20:34.90).

The Scots also have gained two fast freshmen in Emmaline Pendleton and Delaney Hesler, runners who already have shown promise.

Bonny Eagle Coach Mike Burleson is buoyed by the fact his top three all were on the podium at the Class A outdoor track meet last spring for one or more distance events. Yet he said Falmouth will be a force.

“Sofie Matson is the clear-cut favorite,” Burleson said. “She has No. 1 in the bag if she stays healthy. Falmouth has an extremely strong top three. It all comes down to who has the fourth and fifth.

“There are a number of really quality teams with some very strong depth. I think this year will be a special year in that regard.”

Pasch said in her four years running at Falmouth, this year’s team seems most likely to contend for a state title.

“I’m really excited with the talent we have,” Pasch said. “I think everyone on our team has so much potential.”

And Matson said after a running camp at Lake Placid, New York, this summer, she’s focused on bringing an even tougher mindset to races this year.

“I think what’s different this year is we have a lot of potential,” Matson said.

“If we focus on the work, I think we can do some pretty cool things.”

Last year as a freshman, Clement placed second in the 5K freestyle race and was sixth in the 5K classical race at the Class A Nordic skiing state championships.

“Eva is going to help us. It’s very early but her Nordic ski events have prepared her for these practices,” Paul said. “And Sofie and Malaika are healthy, and so is Karley. Those four can match up against anyone. Our job is to figure out how to develop a 5-6-7 runner. Someone will surprise us.”

For her part, Clement said the adjustment to running distance – as opposed to skiing it – has meant getting used to the pounding. But she said the test to her aerobic fitness is the same.

At a workout last week, she wasn’t far behind Falmouth’s front three.

Clement said she chose to run cross country this year to help make her faster on skis – and to help a talented Falmouth team.

“I’m happy I decided to do cross country. I feel super fit,” Clement said. “And I thought I could make more of an impact on this team than on the soccer team.”

Deirdre Fleming can be reached at 791-6452 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: FlemingPph

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