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KVAC cross country: Barber, Cougars take conference titles

AUGUSTA — Mt. Blue’s Tucker Barber wasn’t sure at first when it would happen. He just knew to trust his gut when it told him to make his move with about a mile left in the KVAC cross country championships at Cony High School.

“I had no idea how the race was going to go,” said Barber, a senior. “By the second time on the hill, I was just like ‘Alright, this just feels right. I’ll just go for it.’ I did, and I spent the rest of the race hoping I could hold on.”

Barber more than held on. He opened up a dozen seconds between him and a trailing pack that included Edward Little’s Jacob Gamache on Saturday to become the third Mt. Blue runner in four years to win the conference title.

Four other Cougars joined Barber in the top 25 to give them their first team title since 2005. Brunswick won the A girls title, holding off Mt. Blue. Lincoln Academy’s boys and Maranacook’s girls won Class B.

Barber finished the 3.1-mile course in 16:43.2 to join Josh Horne (2013) and Aaron Willingham (2014) as Cougars who have won the title at Cony.

“He’s a really hard worker, and I think the (key) for him this year is that he ran some decent miles over the summer,” Mt. Blue coach Kelley Cullenberg said. “This is where it’s starting to really pay off. He’s worked out in the summer before, but it’s been more focused on Nordic skiing. This past summer, he spent a little more time thinking about the running aspect of things.”

Gamache (16:55.1) edged Hampden Academy’s Paul Casavant (16:55.9) and Wyatt Lord (16:56) for second place.

Zeke Robinson (12th), Isaiah Reid (16th), Emmett Trafton (20th) and Sam Stinson (25th) backed Barber up as the Cougars tallied 74 points to finish first.

Mt. Blue will try to repeat the performance at next Saturday’s Class A North regional meet in Belfast.

“They’ve really jelled and they know what they need to do,” Cullenberg said. “It’s the same teams, different course. They know that now they’re the team to beat and they know that’s not an easy place to be in, especially because the other teams are not that far behind. So we have to up it a little bit and see what happens next week.”

Hampden (88), Mt. Ararat (98), Brunswick (101) and Lewiston (138) rounded out the top five.

Brunswick’s girls matched the Mt. Blue boys’ point total, 74, to win their title, although the Dragons placed five of the top 24 runners — Michaela Ashby (fourth), Isabella Pols (11th), Caitlin Kelly (12th), Emma Slocum (23rd) and Elina Woolever (24th).

“They outperformed themselves. They did well, It took me by surprise a little bit,” Brunswick coach Dave Delois said. “A lot of them are young and new at it. We had beaten Mt. Blue this year, but Cony beat us twice. I thought we’d be top three. I wasn’t sure about first. That’s a bonus.”

Led by Maeve Hickey (ninth) and Maggie Hickey (10th), Mt. Blue finished second with 89 points, followed by Cony (96), Mt. Ararat (116) and Hampden (123).

Mt. Ararat junior Katherine Leckbee won the individual title, pulling away from Cony’s Anne Guadalupi on her home course to finish in 19:44.2

Edward Little sophomore Jillian Richardson finished third  in 21:02.6.

“I think I ran strong for the entire race. That’s my PR for this course,” she said. “I wanted to stay at the top pack and make sure I don’t get too comfortable. I finished pretty strong. I think it definitely gives me confidence and makes me want to get even better.”

Freshman Molly McGrail won the Class B race (20:40.0) to lead the Black Bears to the team title. Waterville’s Nick Dall, a freshman, won the B boys’ title in 17:14.5.

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