Mount Desert Island team members (from left) Olivia Johnson, Katelyn Osborne and Grace Munger stick close during the Class B girls race at 2018's North regional cross country championships in Belfast. Credit: Photo Courtesy of Glendon Rand

The Mount Desert Island boys and girls cross country teams accomplished a first last Saturday by sweeping the Class B North titles.

As they head to southern Maine for Saturday’s state championship meet at Twin Brook Recreation Area in Cumberland, coach Desiree Sirois’ teams travel as one group united by a love of the sport, a pack-running mentality and a shared culture.

“We start off in August saying that we are a program — JVs and varsity, boys and girls —and if the culture’s bought into it’s going to resonate from top to bottom, regardless of gender,” said Sirois, the Trojans’ 12th-year leader.

“It’s a lot of doing it for yourself but more importantly doing it for the team and knowing that everybody — regardless of whether you’re the top runner or wherever you are — has something to contribute. Everyone has a role on this team and those roles shift throughout the season and shift throughout your four years here.”

The state championships begin in Class B, with the girls race at 11 a.m. and the boys at 11:40. Class C is next with the girls at 12:20 p.m. and the boys at 1, followed by Class A with the girls at 1:40 p.m. and the boys at 2:20.

Nearly 40 runners have bought into the MDI cross country culture this fall, with activities ranging from leading the teams across the finish line to leading the team in singalongs en route to their meets.

“The girls are always playing music very loudly and singing on the bus rides,” MDI junior Jon Genrich said. “Their energy is infectious and even the most sullen boys in the back of the bus eventually start singing. Their infectious energy lends us strength and without them we would not be able to pull this off.”

Other activities range from a week of running camp in the summer to apple pie baking, potluck meals, scavenger hunts and Yankee swaps.

“Your will and skill can take you so far, but we spend 50 percent of the time on team development, both emotional and mental,” Sirois said. “That 50 percent piece is called ‘the other 22 hours.’ You’re with each other for two hours a day, but how are you behaving, how are you treating your teammates, how are you treating yourself those other 22 hours? That’s going to make the difference.”

The teams also practice together during the season in training sessions that are both competitive and unifying.

“We have the same workouts every single week and with that it makes us all work a lot harder to prove to each other that we’re getting better and better,” MDI senior Katelyn Osborne said. “There’s a lot of intra-competition this year and I think that’s helped us become really good.”

Both teams had similar efforts at the regionals, which came one week after MDI swept the Penobscot Valley Conference Class B championships.

Led by senior Katelyn Osborne’s third-place finish, MDI’s seven varsity girls all finished within 1 minute, 37 seconds of each other. The five scoring runners placed in the top 10 within a 35-second span to propel the Trojans to their first regional crown since 2016.

“I run based off what Katelyn does,” said junior Olivia Johnson, who finished seventh at regionals. “We all switch around a lot and we all pace off each other, so whoever places in the top five can be very diverse. I think that’s really a good thing, knowing that everyone has your back.”

The MDI boys used a similar pack effort to capture their first regional crown since winning back-to-back titles in 2002 and 2003. Led by juniors Ponce Saltysiak and Genrich in third and fourth place, respectively, the top five Trojans were separated by 53 seconds and all placed among the top 20.

“We definitely knew we wanted to win the race,” Saltysiak said. “That was the main goal, and we were pretty optimistic. We’d had some very good races in the past and we definitely saw something there.”

Both teams will be challenged at states, with other top Class B girls contenders including South regional champion Greely of Cumberland Center — running on its home course — along with York, Cape Elizabeth and North runner-up Medomak Valley of Waldoboro.

Greely, defending state champion York, Lincoln Academy of Newcastle and North runner-up Caribou are among the favorites for the Class B boys crown.

“Last year was the start of something great,” Genrich said. “At running camp we got our group of people together and we knew we were going to start working hard and actually taking it seriously.

“It’s amazing and humbling to see how much all of that hard work can pay off.”

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...