Hermon High School runners (from left) Braedon Stevens, Zachary Beaton, Ben Zapsky and Ian Meserve stick together near the one-mile mark during Saturday's Class B North cross country championship race at Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast. Meserve finished third overall to help the Hawks defend their title. Credit: Courtesy of Glendon Rand Photo

BELFAST, Maine — The rapid pace of Hermon High School’s rise to prominence in boys cross-country is a tribute to just that — pace.

The Hawks captured their second straight Class B North championship at the Troy A. Howard Middle School course Saturday with only 36.7 seconds separating the team’s top six finishers.

Those runners, led by freshman Ian Meserve’s third-place effort and including Kyle Byram, Ben Zapsky, Braedon Stevens, Zachary Beaton and Dylan Fowler, all placed 13th or better among the 95 competitors in the race. Seventh runner Max Pottle was just another half-minute back in 24th.

“We’ve got a good pack going,” Stevens said. “All of our PRs are so tight-knit that it’s really cool to have a dynamic where some people on our team will be on top one day and the next day other people will be on top.

“Our motto is: ‘Work hard; work together.’ It’s all about working as a team, getting things done as a team and thinking as a team.”

That pack running enabled Hermon to finish the regional with 34 points to best runner-up Caribou (61) and third-place Ellsworth (63), and earn a return trip to the state championship meet to be held Saturday on the same 3.1-mile course.

Hermon’s triumph at the Northern Maine championships came just a week after the Hawks edged Caribou 40-42 for a second straight Penobscot Valley Conference title.

That victory also was fueled by teamwork as the Hawks’ five scorers that day (Stevens, Zapsky, Byram, Meserve and Beaton) all finished between fourth and 12th overall in a pack time of 40.40 seconds.

“We always practice together. We always run together at the same pace,” Beaton said. “When we’re running together and we see a kid go five seconds ahead of us, we’ll say, ‘Hey, come back and run with us.’ We all push each other.”

Hermon’s two-year run of cross-country success — the school previously had only won a regional championship in the sport on the girls side in 1977 — coincided with Megan McCarthy taking over as the program’s head coach in 2016.

“The switch in coaching we had in our sophomore year and the different mentality the coaches placed upon us has definitely helped us as a team,” said Beaton, also an indoor track state champion in the high jump, triple jump and 55 hurdles last winter, and in the 110 hurdles outdoors last spring.

“Our mentality has really changed.”

The Hermon team surprised itself and the rest of the Penobscot Valley Conference by capturing the 2017 league championship, then followed that with victory in the Class B North regional.

It was a sign of things to come, with Stevens, Byram, Fowler, Beaton and Zapsky all finishing within 38.19 seconds of each other to lead the Hawks to that latter win.

And while Hermon went on to finish seventh at the 2017 state meet, with all of the leading runners back and an influx of younger runners led by Meserve, the Hawks have surprised no one with their success to date so far this fall.

“We are definitely much more prepared this year,” said Byram, who with Stevens and Beaton are the seniors among the team’s top seven. “Last year it was sort of like a fun activity for us to do, sort of like it was our sophomore year, but then a couple of us started to place and our confidence grew.”

The cross-country team also has boosted its stature within its school, no easy task given the consistent excellence of many of Hermon’s girls sports teams along with the 2018 Class B state champion boys basketball team and a Hawks’ football team in the midst of its best season in program history.

“We definitely have a lot to live up to after our basketball team did really well and went 22-0,” Byram said. “We’ve been almost undefeated this year and the same with our football team, too. We’re all just kind of working together as a school to say, ‘We’re Hermon. This is who we are and we’re here to fight when it comes to athletics.’”

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Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...