Orono sophomore Ruth White not only was undefeated this season against Maine competition en route to the Class C state championship, but she also succeeded Falmouth’s Sofie Matson (2019) as the New England champion. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Ruth White had been looking forward to this cross country season for a long time.

A sophomore who missed the truncated 2020 season because of injury, the middle daughter of Orono High Coach Lin White has been running competitively since joining a summer track program at age 5.

She set a few time goals for herself, but avoided any expectations about placement.

“I wasn’t really sure,” she said, “how I’d stack up against other girls around the state.”

As things turned out, all the other girls around the state – heck, all the other girls around New England – stacked up behind the 4-foot-7 dynamo from Orono. White announced her presence in early October by winning the Festival of Champions in 17 minutes, 28.46 seconds – a time that broke a record for Troy Howard Middle School’s 5-kilometer course in Belfast, set at the 2017 New England Championship meet.

She wrapped up her unbeaten season with Class C regional and state titles over that same course and then the New England crown by 23 seconds over a deep field of 259 runners in Thetford, Vermont.

For doing so, she is the obvious choice as Varsity Maine Runner of the Year for girls’ cross country.

“Ruth started doing unique things at a very young age,” said Lin White, whose eldest daughter, Nora, is an Orono senior who placed 17th in New England. “They have both made each other better athletes and better people. They are sisters, and that’s the more important thing.”

At Orono, Lin White always stressed team above self, and his daughters – the youngest, Clara, is in eighth grade – embraced that concept. It certainly didn’t hurt to have role models such as Hannah Steelman, Lily Koffman and Kassidy Dill, all Orono grads who went on to collegiate athletics and, in the case of Steelman, the Olympic Trials and an NCAA team championship this fall at North Carolina State.

“Since I was really little, all my sisters and I have always loved to run,” Ruth said. “It’s a really good community, good teammates. And even when it hurts, you know you’re getting better.”

As satisfying as it was to beat the Belfast times established by such notable Maine runners as Sofie Matson (Columbia), Cassie Hintz (Wisconsin), Abbey Leonardi (Oregon) and Emily Durgin (UConn), White derived more pleasure from Orono winning the Class C team title. That was made possible thanks to a gritty performance from her older sister, who hadn’t run at all for the previous three weeks because of a stress fracture of her pelvis.

“It meant so much for us to win as a team,” Ruth said. “We wouldn’t have won it without (Nora) and without everyone giving it their all. All the girls had a great day.”

Two weeks later, White joined Matson (2019), Durgin (2009) and Leonardi (2008) as New England champions from Maine. To find another Maine schoolgirl with a faster 5K time than White, one would need to turn back to 1994 and 1985, when Gladys Ganiel of Narraguagus (17:25) and Susannah Beck of Waynflete in Portland (17:20) placed sixth and fifth, respectively, at the Kinney/Foot Locker national championships.

White opted to end her season in Vermont rather than race at the Northeast Regionals, and is looking forward to Nordic skiing this winter. When not running or skiing, she enjoys woodworking at a bench in the family living room for her craft projects.

Yes, she dreams of competing at higher levels, but says that she wants to maintain a healthy perspective on her athletic career.

“There’s a lot of strong girls out there, in our state and in our town, even,” she said. “If it turns out that I get a good deal in college or maybe even the Olympic Trials one day, then that would be amazing. But just one step at a time for now.”

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