ORONO, Maine — Corey Conner of the University of Maine was back at the front of the pack again Saturday as she and the Black Bears opened the 2012 cross-country season.

The senior from West Townsend, Mass., took first place in a dual meet at the University of Massachusetts, covering the 3.1-mile layout in 17 minutes, 28.29 seconds. The Minutemen edged the Black Bears by a score of 26-33.

Conner breezed to victory, finishing nearly 2:24 ahead of UMass’ Rachel Hilliard (19:52.18). Conner is competing in her final season on the trails after redshirting last fall.

UMaine teammates Annabelle Wilson (20:00.28) and Carolyn Stocker (20:10.45) wound up third and fifth, respectively.

Conner’s last cross-country season was, not unexpectedly, a successful one. In 2010, she won the New England Division I championship and claimed third in the America East Championship.

She went on to capture fourth in the NCAA Regionals and logged a 42nd-place finish at the NCAA Division I Championship meet.

The UMaine men’s team lost a one-point decision (29-30) at UMass, despite the first-place performance of Kelton Cullenberg.

The junior from Chesterville sped over the 6-kilometer course in 18:20.54, outkicking teammate Taylor Phillips (18:27.69) for the win. It was Cullenberg’s personal best for the distance.

In fact, it was nearly two minutes better than the 20:25.0 he ran in the Bears’ meet to open the 2011 season.

UMaine’s Ryan Hardiman captured fourth place overall in 18:36.79.

The Black Bears return to action Friday with a dual meet at the University of New Hampshire.

Husson women eye title defense

The women’s cross-country squad at Husson University was formed in 2010 but needed only two seasons to bring home the North Atlantic Conference championship.

This season, the Eagles have been chosen to repeat that feat. Husson was the preseason favorite of the coaches to win the title, edging out Colby-Sawyer, last year’s runner-up, by 10 points.

Sophomore Alecia Palmer of Presque Isle returns to lead the Husson contingent after claiming the NAC individual crown a year ago.

Palmer has helped the Eagles register a strong start to the season. She finished third overall in 21:16 (5K) to lead the team to victory in the 11-team Mayflower Kickoff Meet on Aug. 31 at Henniker, N.H.

Palmer then took 12th place (21:37, 5K) in Saturday’s University of New England Invitational in Biddeford, where Husson was fourth among 11 teams.

Freshman Kateri Jeffrey of South Portland (19th, 22:04) and senior Theresa Martin (20th, 22:08) were among the Eagles’ top performers at UNE. Martin, who did not compete last year, recently was named the NAC Runner of the Week.

Husson, which is fielding a men’s cross-country team in 2012, is being led by first-year head coach Chris Wood. The head of the Husson Sports Performance department also coaches the Eagles’ women’s track and field squad.

Wood replaces Jim Karcanes, who headed the women’s cross-country program after its inception for the 2010 season.

Husson adds men’s XC

The addition of the men’s cross-country brings to 17 the number of varsity sports being sponsored by Husson.

Two meets into the season, the Eagles have been spearheaded by freshman Jacob Michaud of Caribou, who finished 22nd overall in the opener and 41st at UNE. Sophomore James Nealy of Northport (58th, 81st) also has been solid, while freshman James Schick and sophomore Craig Smith of Sanford debuted last weekend.

The Husson teams are back on the trails Saturday when they compete at the UMaine-Farmington Invitational.

Pete Warner

Pete graduated from Bangor High School in 1980 and earned a B.S. in Journalism (Advertising) from the University of Maine in 1986. He grew up fishing at his family's camp on Sebago Lake but didn't take...