Two years ago, the University of Maine men’s cross-country team lost to conference rival University of New Hampshire in the Black Bears’ own Murray Keatinge Invitational and on their home course.
A few weeks later, the Bears returned the favor and got their revenge with a surprise victory in the America East Championship meet.
UMaine cross-country coach Mark Lech is hoping history repeats itself this season as his Bears host the conference championship meet at Orono Saturday afternoon.
“Well, we’re peaking at the absolutely, 100-percent best time,” said Lech. “And I’d like to think being at home on our home course should give them a real big boost.
Motivation is something the Bears are not short on: Motivation to earn that “bookend” championship trophy to go alongside the 2004 one and the motivation to avenge their loss to UNH at the Keatinge Invitational in Orono.
“They’ve pretty much been talking about it and had it on their minds, plus this is the meet we want to do well in and has been all season long,” Lech explained.
The men will finally get their chance at revenge when the race starts at 11 a.m. on the UMaine athletic practice fields. The women’s race begins at noon. Both races will finish on Alfond Stadium’s Beckett Family Track.
Maine and UNH are the favorites in the men’s race, but Stony Brook University is also a solid contender. University of Maryland Baltimore County is defending champ, but doesn’t appear able to defend its title due to graduation losses from last year’s squad.
The formula for victory, as Lech sees it, involves Maine’s top three runners – senior and defending individual conference champion Kirby Davis of Falmouth, junior Donald Drake of Portland, and senior Josh Trevino – finishing ahead of UNH’s top runner: junior Jordan Horowitz and Maine’s Nos. 4 and 5 runners (Jon McGonagle and David Englehutt) finishing alongside or ahead of UNH’s fourth and fifth runners.
“Five guys have to do it for us. I mean, the three guys have to stay up front for us to have any shot at all,” Lech said. “Our 1-2-3 guys will be where they’re going to be, but the [Nos.] four or five guys are the ones who have to mark their UNH guys.”
In the women’s meet, two-time defending champion Boston University is still favorite until someone knocks it off. The Maine women don’t figure to be that someone, but Lech is happy with the progress his young team has made this year.
“I think B.U. is as close to a sure thing as you’re going to have at this meet Saturday,” said Lech. “But I think with the freshmen we’ve had and the way they’ve run this year, we should be in contention next year and be on the rebound on an upward direction.”
Two of those freshmen, Canadian Jessica Belliveau and Elonnai Hickock of Pennsylvania, will lead the Bears along with senior Hana Pelletier of Belgrade and junior Shelby Howe of Columbia.
“Jessica has been our number one all year long and would like to break 18 minutes. Hickok will be in the low 18’s,” Lech said.
Binghamton, UNH and Albany each has solid 1-2 punches at the heads of their packs, but it will take a lot to unseat the three-time New England champion Terriers.