What we learned from the Festival of Champions: Tia Tardy, Luke Laverdiere primed for strong stretch drive

Every year, the Maine Cross Country Festival of Champions, the state’s largest cross country invitational run annually at the Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast, serves two purposes.

For one, it provides Maine teams to compete against out-of-state schools from Rhode Island to Vermont, and even Canada, while blazing a trail on the same 3.1-mile course used for state championship meets every other year.

The other purpose is for coaching and athletes to get an important midseason gauge for where they are at as they prepare to head into the three-week “championship season,” which gets underway with conference championship meets in a couple weeks.

Saturday’s meet, which saw the girls from Cumberland, Rhode Island and boys from Falmouth leave the Midcoast with team titles, featured a spectacular day of racing on arguably the finest cross country course in the state.

What has been a dry, fairly rain-free fall also provided runners with a very fast track – even when the unpredictable Maine weather is lousy, this course drains extremely well and does not see a lot of mud – and it was reflective in the winning times posted by MDI senior Tia Tardy (18 minutes, 32.71 seconds) and Yarmouth junior Luke Laverdiere (15:33.84).

That was one of three things we learned from this meet: Laverdiere and Tardy are fast, looking strong and are expecting their times to come down as the season goes along.

Both runners claimed gold in different fashions: Laverdiere made his move early in the race to pull away from the pack, while Tardy used her prowess in track to streamroll past a pack of talented runners.

Tardy’s best event in track is the 800 meters. Even in the grind of a 3.1-mile race, she has the speed to turn a race in her favor in the homestretch, and it worked to her favor on Saturday.

As far as Laverdiere goes, he was in cruise control for most of the race. However, behind him, two of northern Maine’s fastest harriers, Hampden Academy sophomore Wyatt Lord and George Stevens Academy senior John Hassett, put together their best efforts of the season in finishing in second and sixth places, respectively.

If the Broncos and Eagles are going to do some postseason damage in their respective conferences and classes, they’ll need those guys at the front of the packs in Classes A and C. And if the way they ran on Saturday is an indication, Hampden and George Stevens will be contenders later this month.

The second thing we learned: Class B girls will be an interesting race to watch come late October.

Even though Cumberland, Rhode Island – the only out of state team to appear in all 15 FOC races – cruised to the team title on Saturday, three Class B South squads were duking it out for runner-up honors.

That title went to Greely of Cumberland Center, while Yarmouth in third place and York in fourth followed.

If that wasn’t enough, Cape Elizabeth and Camden Hills of Rockport also finished in the top 10.

While the Windjammers – along with Tardy’s Trojans – appear to be the early favorites in Class B North, expect quite a duel at the end of October when the Rangers, Clippers, Wildcats, Capers, Windjammers and Trojans may return to Belfast in pursuit of a state championship.

The third and final thing we learned has almost nothing to do with what went down on the fields, trails and wooded paths of Belfast.

I’m talking about the job meet organizer and Brewer cross country coach Glendon Rand do behind the scenes, putting this meet together.

As always, everything was run smoothly and was extremely well-organized. All six races went off without a hitch, and the course, as always, was in pristine shape.

There’s a reason teams like the squad from Cumberland, Rhode Island, come back every year and Rand and his crew are a reason why.

Ryan McLaughlin

About Ryan McLaughlin

BDN sports reporter Ryan McLaughlin grew up in Brewer and is a lifelong fan of the New England Patriots, Boston Red Sox, Boston Celtics and Boston Bruins. In "The Boston Blitz" he'll be sharing his perspective with BDN readers about what's happening on the Boston professional sports scene.