The Falmouth and Westbrook high school girls’ cross country teams start the race in socially distant form Saturday at Smiling Hill Farm in Westbrook. Steve Craig photo

WESTBROOK — Westbrook High junior Camden Bessey summed up what Saturday’s cross country meet against Falmouth at Smiling Hill Farm was like.

“The energy is the same, you’ve still got everybody cheering for everybody, cheering for different teams, it’s just the amount of people,” Bessey said.

Bessey had finished fourth in the boys’ race as Westbrook’s top runner. He and teammate Aidan Pecoraro (sixth place) were standing near the top of a demanding climb – about 150- to 200-yards long – in the last quarter of the 5-kilometer course to offer encouragement during the girls’ race.

“If this was a normal meet, you’d have four or five teams competing, and this whole line would be filled all the way down. It’s just weird not seeing everybody here,” Bessey said.

Welcome to Maine high school cross country during the coronavirus pandemic. Runners had face masks on while on the starting line and then carried them during their race. Runners were spread out over a wide starting area. With 29 runners plus coaches, Falmouth had to take two buses.

And, missing among the Falmouth contingent was co-coach Jorma Kurry. According to Danny Paul, the other head coach, Kurry, a math teacher at Falmouth High, is in quarantine because one of his students tested positive for COVID-19.


“This is the first time he’s missed a meet in 20 years,” Paul said. “He’s fine. He’s not sick. He just has to wait. We had a student who tested positive that was in (Kurry’s) class for one period, and they’re just playing it really safe.”

Then there were some things that have remained unchanged.

Three-time Class A champion and 2019 New England champ Sofie Matson leads the field at the start of Saturday’s dual meet against Westbrook at Smiling Hill Farm in Westbrook. Matson won in 18:24.10. Steve Craig photo

For instance, Falmouth senior Sofie Matson is still the class of any field she enters in Maine.

Because it was the season opener and the course had some loose, rocky areas where footing could be a bit dicey, Matson ran “definitely one of my more conservative races.”

But that doesn’t mean slow. Matson is the three-time Class A champion and reigning New England champ. She broke the Smiling Hill course record by nearly 25 seconds with a time of 18 minutes, 24.1 seconds.

Equally unsurprising was that Falmouth senior Karley Piers was the only girl anywhere close to Matson. They finished 1-2 at last year’s Class A meet, and Piers ran a strong time of 18:56.1 on Saturday.


“Right as the starters’ siren went off, it was definitely amazing to be back out there,” Piers said. “It’s always such an exciting feeling I get whenever I race. That’s why I do it. I love it.”

Piers finished 2 minutes and 19 seconds ahead of third-place finisher Eva Clement of Falmouth.

In the boys’ race, Ben Greene of Falmouth, the top returner in the state based on his third-place Class A finish last fall, also won handily, in 16:51.6. Falmouth’s Logan Ross (17:14.5) was a strong second, “nearly a minute faster than he was running last year,” Paul said.

The Falmouth girls swept the first seven spots to post a perfect score of 15 points, to Westbrook’s 50. Falmouth had eight of the top 10 finishers in the boys’ race, winning 18-43.

Much of the post-meet conversation centered on whether cross country will be able to have a state championship this season.

Westbrook High’s Camden Bessey starts up the final climb on the 5-kilometer course at Smiling Hill Farm. Bessey was Westbrook’s top finisher, fourth overall. Steve Craig photo

“We still don’t know if we’re going to have states, but we still have the goal to go there,” said Bessey. “And, we still have the goal to get more (personal bests). But it is a lot harder to have that motivation when the future is uncertain.”


Because the sport is considered a “low-risk” activity, according to the state’s COVID-19 safety protocols for resuming sports, cross country teams can travel to different regions of the state, so championships are a possibility.

But getting the field sizes down enough to fall within Maine’s outdoor gathering limit of 100 people will be a challenge.

“The regional is the hardest to pull off because of sheer numbers. Any school can go,” Paul said. “It’s limited to seven runners (seven boys, seven girls per school), but if you’ve got 20, 30 schools, that’s a pretty big number.

“What they’re talking about is our conference putting together a meet, which would limit the size, and then having – pick a number – three or four teams from our conference meet going if they have a state meet.”

In the meantime, schools will enjoy their handful of dual meets. It’s not ideal for competition. In both the boys’ and girls’ races on Saturday, most of the runners came out of the woods alone, with no one to try to track down or hold off over the final half mile.

Falmouth senior Faran Igani leads a group of runners down a hill in Saturday’s cross country dual meet against host Westbrook at Smiling Hill Farm. Igani finished third in the boys’ race. Steve Craig photo

“It definitely felt good. We had a late start to the season for sure. We missed out on the Southern Maine Classic and some other meets, but it felt good,” said Falmouth senior Faran Igani, the team’s No. 3 runner.


“I’ll take anything,” Greene said. “I’m just glad, finally, we get to do something.”

And, for every day of activity, there can be a story.

Like the one about Smiling Hill Farm’s sleek black cat that decided it was a cross-country cat. The cat had already greeted both teams and most everyone in attendance prior to the boys’ race. When the race started, the cat ran alongside the boys for a while, took a shortcut, and followed them into the woods.

Trouble was, the cat decided to lay down in the middle of the course, just as Pecoraro was approaching.

“I expected it to move out the way and it just didn’t get out of the way, so I had to jump over it. I probably would have been a second faster if it wasn’t for that cat,” Pecoraro said.

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