The start of the University of Maine’s cross country season last Saturday was an all-Black Bear affair, as only a handful of UMaine runners from each team competed, and no other university was in attendance. Eight local runners rounded out the field.
Freshman Taylor Phillips crossed the line first with a time of 16:33. With most top runners on both teams sitting out, the meet became more of a glorified training session for younger competitors.
“This is really just a chance for some of the freshmen to get their feet wet and get used to running in a meet,” senior runner Miles Bartlett said during the race.
Showing early promise despite running at only threshold pace were Phillips and fellow freshman runner Patrick Mullarkey, who took second with 16:36. Veteran Black Bears have pointed to the pair as runners to watch. Neither seem to feel pressured in the wake of excellent first seasons last year by current sophomore runners Riley Masters, Corey Conner and Hilary Maxim.
“It is great that Riley had the success that he did last year,” Mullarkey said. “I just want to run some fast times and contribute to the team in any way possible.”
“The freshmen are doing a great job adjusting [from high school] to college running,” Masters said. “I think they feel a little pressure, but that’s needed for them to do well. They will learn what it takes to be successful at this level very quick.”
The men’s team, led by senior captain Corey Bean, was selected in preseason polls to finish fifth. There are nine teams in the America East conference. Bartlett and Masters were the top two finishers at last year’s conference meet.
After losing Chuck Therriault and Dave Englehutt to graduation, the Black Bears will ask runners like Dave Currier to step in and score points on a more regular basis. Senior runner Chris Harmon, a consistent scorer last season, will sit out the season as he deals with viral meningitis.
On the women’s side, freshmen Whitney Chamberlain and Hope Hopkins took second and third place respectively. Chamberlain crossed the line in 20:41, while Hopkins finished in 21:25.
“I felt like I ran pretty fast, but I definitely had more in me. I can’t wait until an actual meet,” Chamberlain said. “I don’t really feel like there is that much pressure on me to make a contribution right away. I know that I’m only a freshman, and I have a lot of time to improve.”
The women’s team, led by senior captain Brenna Walsh, was picked to finish fifth in the conference as well. They also return their top runners in Conner and Maxim.
After losing their captain Stephanie Jette to graduation, the Black Bears will look to get help from runners like senior Chelsea Leeman and junior Vanessa Letourneau, who scored at several meets last season.
The Black Bears’ next meet will be the America East pre-race in Burlington, Vermont. The meet will give runners a chance to see their competition within the conference for the first time.