In this strangest of high school cross-country seasons, when a pandemic, at the last moments, snatched away opportunities for Midcoast teams and individuals to challenge for league championships, one local squad and an individual, fittingly on Halloween Day, rose above the weariness, chaos and difficult situation to earn spots in the state championships.

The Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A and B, as well as the Penobscot Valley Conference, championships were contested on Saturday, Oct. 31 at three venues.

While two of those meets were attended by teenage distance athletes from two area schools, those events also will be remembered for not including many other runners with dreams and goals of winning titles.

Watch video and see photos from the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference meets below.

Halloween Day, the talented, deep Camden Hills girls qualified for the states from the KVAC Class A meet at Cony High School in Augusta, while Oceanside's Maria Protheroe was the lone area runner, who competed in the Class B portion of the KVAC meet at the Quarry Road Trails in Waterville, to qualify for the states.

The league courses were 5-kilomters, or 3.1 miles, in length.

The state championship meets, which will be on Wednesday, Nov. 11 (boys) and on Saturday, Nov. 14 (girls) at Saxl Park in Bangor.  Nov. 11 is Veterans Day, so there will be no scheduled classes for students. Thus, the day is open for the boys event.

Windjammers Jenna VanRyn, Claire Wyman, Lauren Howland, Zoe O'Brien, Elise Hildreth, Rose O'Brien and Addie Cortese, along with Mariner Protheroe, qualified for the states.

On Nov. 14, Camden Hills runners will compete in Class A at noon and Protheroe in Class B at 2:30 p.m.

From the KVACs, in Class A, the top four teams and top four individuals not connected to qualifying teams earned the right to move on to the state event. In Class B, the top three teams and two individuals not connected to qualifying teams advance to the states.

While Saturday's championship races were fun and the culmination of weeks of hard work and many training miles for a handful of Midcoast youngsters, the same cannot be said for other area student-athletes who did not get the opportunity to compete due to forces outside their control — namely, the increases in COVID-19 cases in schools or county.

Panthers, Lions, Vikings stay home

Many Midcoast runners were unable to compete in the league meets, which also served as this year's state qualifiers. Regional meets, the traditional way to qualify for the states, were not held this fall.

Thus, Medomak Valley of Waldoboro and Belfast, both of whom had individual runners who might have challenged for league crowns (Panthers Olivia Parent and Connor Daigle, and Lion Miles Cannon), were not able to compete. Also, the MVHS girls appeared in a solid position to defend their league Class B crown.

Unfortunately, Medomak Valley and Belfast student-athletes wereunable to attend because those schools suspended fall athletics due to positive COVID-19 cases in Regional School Unit 40 and the fact Waldo County is in "yellow" distinction for coronavirus.

That also was true for Searsport student-athletes in the PVC Class C championships at Saxl Park.

In any case, the shortened and altered (no spectators, social distancing, face masks worn unless competing) regular-season and league meets came to a close and the states are on-deck.

Windjammers sail to states

In Saturday's league Class A girls meet, Camden Hills had two runners, VanRyn and Wyman, finish among the top 10. There were 66 runners in the race, won by Bangor's Erin McCarthy in 20:25.

The individual Windjammer results were: 6, VanRyn, 21:33; 7, Wyman, 22:06; 26, Howland, 24:13; 36, Zoe O'Brien, 24:56; 39, Hildreth, 25:32; 46, Rose O'Brien, 26:52; and 62, Addie Cortese, 31:06. The O'Briens are sisters.

The girls team scores were: Bangor 36, Mount Ararat of Topsham 91, Brunswick 107, Camden Hills 114, Brewer 133, Edward Little of Auburn 134, Cony 165, Messalonskee of Oakland 181, Hampden Academy 221 and Oxford Hills of South Paris 257. Bangor, Mount Ararat, Brunswick and Camden Hills qualified for the states.

The Rams won by placing their top five scoring runners in the first, second, ninth, 10th and 14th places, and the champs finished with a total time of 1:49.16 and average runner time of 21:51.20.

The Windjammers finished with a total time of 1:58:20 and average time of 23:40.

Veteran Camden Hills coach Helen Bonzi, who has seen her girls win a state Class A crown and challenge for a boatload of league, regional and state titles in recent years, said Bangor is especially strong this year, especially after a solid, organized summer program.

"It kept them all running and training together, setting them up for a breakout season," she said. "Behind Bangor only seven points separated the next three teams. Two days before the meet Mount Blue [of Farmington] was cleared to race for the first time this season, and the next day they had to withdraw because Somerset County went to a 'yellow' designation, a heartbreak for their team. It also took them out of the top four teams projected to qualify. However, it brought Mount Ararat closer to us in points."

She said Camden Hills had a remarkably injury-free season, but little things cropped up for the varsity runners. "I wasn’t as worried about the sore legs as I was about the stress and threat of the coronavirus that the girls were experiencing. Almost to a person the girls ended up having a rather challenging day at KVACs, but they all hung in there and finished the race. The thought of their team was the one thing that drove the girls to finish as strongly as they did. I am so proud of them for overcoming the adversity that they encountered."

In the league Class A boys meet, Brunswick's Tyler Patterson finished first among 75 runners at 16:46.

The individual Windjammer results were: 32, Ian Orsmond, 19:29; 39, Henry McDevitt, 20:00; 47, Elias Porter, 20:34; 56, Jonathan McDevitt, 21:30; 58, Soren Beckstrom, 21:33; 59, Finn Urey, 21:35; and 62, Sam VanLonkhuyzen, 21:40. The McDevitts are brothers.

The boys team scores were: Bangor 37, Mount Ararat 56, Brunswick 57, Hamden Academy 96, Messalonskee 113, Cony 151, Brewer 194, Camden Hills 232, Oxford Hills 297, Lewiston 301 and Edward Little 301. Bangor, Mount Ararat, Brunswick and Hampden Academy qualified for the states.

The Rams won by placing their five scoring runners in the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and 15th spots, and had a total time of 1:27:49 and average runner time of 17:33.8.

The Windjammers finished with a total time of 1:43:06 and average time of 20:37.20.

Traditionally, all girls and boys run together in separate races, but this year the races included four groups and starts.

Bonzi said she knew it might be a long shot for the Windjammer boys to qualify from the league meet to the states and, while a few individuals might be close to qualifying, it also would have been a long shot.

"The boys had nothing to lose and were going to go for it," she said. "We have four seniors graduating this season and three were racing [Oct. 31]. They wanted to end their careers on a high note and each of them did just that. The senior boys have been great leaders for their team this year and will be deeply missed. The rest of the boys on the varsity team are sophomores and a freshman. They also ended their seasons on a high note, with exceptional performances on [Oct. 31] . The entire team this year is fairly young. Nineteen freshmen came out for the team this year and 14 of them are boys. So we have lots to look forward to in the upcoming years."

Bonzi said she is simply thankful her overall program got to compete interscholastically in a shortened season, especially while other Windjammer fall sports programs, such as soccer, field hockey and football, did not.

"Wow. There’s much to say about this season, but it’s mostly about the blessing that it has been that the kids were able to complete a successful season. Before school started, it seemed that wasn’t going to happen. Early on it seemed that fall sports were happening, then CHRHS withdrew from fall sports and no teams were competing, then finally the [Maine Principals' Association] worked things out and the fall sports season was back for some teams.

"But, the season ended up starting so late and it was so strange to be one of only two teams [golf the other] at the school to be competing. It felt like everyone’s eyes were on us to see how we did with masks, distancing, and keeping everyone on the teams healthy. The season started so late and seemed so tenuous, it felt like we were going to be shut down by the coronavirus every week. We had only eight full practices before our first race, and there was realistically no chance to get race ready in such a short time. Then suddenly here we are, post KVACs. It’s been surreal."

Mariner carries torch in Class B

There was only one Midcoast runner in the Class B event in Waterville, that being Oceanside's Protheroe, who placed third at 21:24.13 in the girls race. Olivia Tinner of Winslow finished first among the 42-runner field in 20:33.22.

The girls team scores were: Waterville 54, Morse of Bath 64, Maranacook of Readfield 70, Leavitt of Turner 71 and Lincoln Academy of Newcastle 78.

In the boys race, Waterville's Joshua Way finished first among 45 runners at 17:14.01.

The boys team scores were: Morse 27, Lincoln Academy 56, Erskine Academy of South China 63, Nokomis of Newport 95 and Maranacook 103.

In Class B, there were four waves of runners, 15 to 20 seconds apart, for the two races.

Oceanside coach Shawn Anderson said Protheroe "did fantastic" on a tough Wateville course.

The coach said the season was not difficult, just the unknown of when it would start. "Cross country itself is easy to follow the state guidelines of safe sport, but most of our athletes, and especially Maria, prepared during the summer. This certainly showed for her after her stellar run at KVACs, her highest finish of the season when it counted.

"Obviously, the 'strangeness' of the season is just preparing week by week, unsure if a meet will be cancelled. And yes, our athletes masked up at times, and the fans and crowds were non-existent, but the toughness of our athletes showed in their preparation. Their parents were supportive, even from a distance, and the athletes were supportive of each other. Even other teams, and coaches were very supportive and I think I can speak on behalf of all the participating teams that we were blessed to have a season."

Anderson said he was "thankful" Regional School Unit 13 Superintended John McDonald and athletic director Molly Bishop allowed the Mariners to continue to compete even while neighboring districts and counties had gone remote or were forced to halt athletics and "that our school district is following the guidelines during school to keep safe during school, and our athletes are following the guidelines after school. Maria is going to continue to train through until states and, assuming its run, we look to represent Oceanside with pride at the Maine state meet in Bangor on Nov 14."

Disappointment, missed opportunities

Longtime Medomak Valley coach George Gould said, "I am so saddened that our season ended this way, especially for the seniors. Every athlete worked hard this season, improved greatly, and were looking forward to the final two meets."

Gould said he fully supported the decision to end the Panther season on Friday, Oct. 30, despite the fact he had two runners — Daigle and Parent — and a girls team capable of winning league titles and qualifying for the states. The MVHS girls felt they might defend their league Class B title.

"The safety of our athletes, our opponents, and the larger community was always our top priority," he said. "The team handled the situation with maturity and grace … knowing these athletes as I do, it didn’t surprise me. Mr. [Matt] Lash did a masterful job of guiding our team through the maze of regulations that we all encountered."

Longtime Belfast coach Jo-Ann Nealey said being able to hold practices and participate in a handful of meets was wonderful, while it lasted, and the season always was the proverbial house of cards, with the possibility of tumbling over if COVID-19 cases increased, as they eventually did.

"The athletes on the cross-country team were happy to begin a season and train together," Nealey said. "We only had three meets this season. We knew there was always the chance that things would change. We were all hoping to participate in a full season. Unfortunately due to the pandemic the season ended early. The athletes did a great job following the guidelines during our season."

Panther senior Parent, who had won races during the regular season and was a strong contender for the league's individual crown, as well as a spot in the state race, said, "While Medomak didn't get the chance to participate on Saturday, I'm grateful that we got to have a surprisingly wonderful season. With everything going on, it's hard to be entirely disappointed that we didn't get the chance to finish this season. We were so lucky to have had the opportunities that we did, such as being able to practice all together, compete in a few regular-season meets, and participate in a sport we all love."

Daigle, who also was among the favorites to win the boys league Class B race and challenge for a state title this year, said he and others have experienced mixed emotions this season.

"It’s hard to put into words on how I feel right now," he said. "It’s hard to stay angry when what has happened is out of your control. It’s also hard to stay sad knowing that you were given a chance to run at all in this crazy year. The point I’m trying to make is that everything happens for a reason. Just trying to find the light in the dark is what I’ve been trying make of this situation. To be a great athlete you need to have a great mindset and adjust your goals when things don’t go your way and that is something I definitely have learned from my current situation. I have been able to find new motivation in my training I never knew I had before. I’m now even more ready for my next opportunity to compete as I am more than ever hungry and determined to win. I had an opportunity to not only win a KVAC title but the possibility of winning a state title this year as I was ranked top three all year for the state meet this year. It’s beyond heartbreaking that I had this chance of a lifetime taken away from me. To this I say the best is yet to come Medomak. I promise to one day be a state champion and I’ll make sure to keep myself accountable on that from here on out."

Daigle did add that as a 100 percent virtual student he was confused why he could not have individually competed in the league meet/state qualifier. "I feel like, personally, I should have been more than capable to compete in the state qualifier given my situation. I have not been in contact with anyone at our school outside of the cross-country team and even there I made sure to socially-distance myself and wear a mask when in a group meeting. I have made it clear that I am for whatever will keep myself and my family safe but, given my situation, I believe things could have turned out differently.

"On a good note, however I would like to thank my athletic director Matthew Lash, as well as the MPA and the state, for giving student-athletes like myself the chance to play fall sports this year. Even though things did not go as I had hoped I am still happy I was given this opportunity which many, unfortunately, weren’t given this year. I am happy to know that other teams and athletes in Maine still get an opportunity to achieve their goals even though my season was cut short. As heartbreaking as It is to be saying this I am looking forward to seeing how the state cross-country meet plays out this year. I can’t wait to virtually cheer on my friends on as I hope they have a great remainder to their season. I know for sure I’ll be back next year. I’ll be sure to stay ready for whatever the next sports season brings."

So, ultimately, about half of the Midcoast's teenage high school distance athletes, who had run a bundle of miles in practices and a handful of regular-season meets, got the opportunity to test their physical and mental conditioning against others in the conference and state meets.

Spectators were not allowed at the league events and will not be allowed at the state championship races.

The MPA hopes to provide livestream for the state championship races.

Challenging season nears end

Bonzi said, like all sports, the cross-country season has been a challenge for every school and every program as COVID-19 loomed in the shadows like a menacing monster.

"Our schedule only had four meets on it during the whole of the regular season," she said. "One meet was cancelled due to a possible case of COVID-19, which fortunately turned out to be a false alarm. In all we had seven weeks of practices and competed in three races going into the KVAC meet. Due to the positive case of COVID at CHRHS and bad weather, our practices were cancelled for most of the week before KVACs. We had very little preparation for our season, let alone any championship meets.

"I think the hardest thing about this whole season has been that the week before the KVAC meet CHRHS had a confirmed positive case of COVID-19. It shook the entire school community. One of our own at the school was infected, and as a result, many people were in quarantine. It immediately touched the lives of everyone at the school. The whole pandemic was now very real for all the students, teachers, administration, staff, families, and the entire community. School went virtual and practices were canceled. When we could finally meet as a team on Friday before the meet, I found that the team was both looking forward to competing at KVACs and very wary of encountering a lot of new people in their bubble, even though we had proven all season that cross country was a low-risk sport. With everything that’s been thrown at students over this long year they are understandably fragile. People were highly-stressed, but wouldn't give up on their teammates and the opportunity to prove their mettle one more time on the difficult Cony course."

Bonzi said now her girls will regroup and prepare for the rest of this year — and future.

"We now have a couple weeks to prepare for the state meet and we will use it wisely," she said. "This year we have only two seniors who are varsity runners. All four of the girls who are seniors have been strong, steady role models for the team. They have been kind, generous, hard-working leaders. For many years the girls team has been a strong competing team in our league and in the state. Our girls team is deep, and several girls are just waiting their turn to run as varsity competitors. Just like the boys, the future of the girls team looks good."