NORTH SCITUATE, R.I. — The Camden Hills boys cross-country team qualified for and competed in one of the most prestigious races of the fall season — namely, the New England high school championships on Saturday, Nov. 12 at Ponaganset High School.

The 87th annual event included 505 teenage distance athletes, including six Windjammers, and saw the girls race won by a Maine runner.

Camden Hills’ Henry McDevitt (30), among others. Photo courtesy of Emily McDevitt

Zachary Clement, Colin Wright, Ben Pike, Sam Tooley, Henry McDevitt and Mickey Nowell competed in the boys race for Camden Hills.

Ruth White of Orono won the 245-runner girls race in 17:51.24, while Devan Kipyego of St. Raphael, R.I. finished first in the 260-runner boys race in 15:24.62.

The treks were over a 5-kilometer, or 3.1-mile, course.

In the boys race, the first Maine runner was Nathan Blades of Portland in 25th at 16:29.82.

Camden Hills’ Zach Clement, right, among others. Photo courtesy of Emily McDevitt

The individual results for the Windjammer runners were: 165, Clement, 18:00.66; 190, Wright, 18:21.63; 200, Pike, 18:26.81; 205, Tooley, 18:29.85; 210, McDevitt, 18:35; and 241, Nowell, 19:18.31.

It was the first time in school history the Camden Hills boys qualified for the prestigious New England meet.

For the 30 boys teams, Hall, Conn. was first at 89, with the fifth, 11, 15th, 24th and 34th top-five scoring runners. Camden Hills finished 27th at 708, with the 116th, 137th, 146th, 152nd and 157th scoring runners.

Hampden Academy was the first Maine team at 473.

There were 29 girls squads, as Glastonbury, Conn. finished first at 116, with the 15th, 16th, 23rd, 29th and 33rd scoring runners.

Longtime Windjammer coach Helen Bonzi said the Windjammers hopped in a van on Friday, Nov. 11 and headed to Rhode Island to “preview the course and prepare for the very stiff competition we were going to be facing in the meet the next day. The boys felt prepared, but giddy with anticipation. They knew they had done all the training and were physically prepared, but mentally they had no idea what to expect.

“We never get to race out of state, so we hadn’t seen any of the competition except for a couple of the teams at the Festival of Champions meet [in Belfast] at the end of September. We saw a lot of runners previewing the course on Friday and the boys were closely looking at the competition. It started to rain as soon as we got to the Ponaganset course and it continued to pour rain throughout the night. We knew we were in for a wet, muddy race the next day.”

The coach said the New England meet is similar to the state event, “but the competition is so much greater from the very talent-laden, out-of-state teams.”

She said there was a festive quality when the Windjammers arrived on Saturday morning “even though there were only a few teams on site when we got there. As other teams arrived, things got more and more exciting. It was great to see all the Maine teams, athletes, and coaches. Many of the Maine teams arrived pretty early and everyone was riding high on the energy of the day, happy to be there and represent our state.”

Bonzi said, “All in all, the meet was such a wonderful learning experience. True to form, the boys ran a stellar race. The CHRHS team’s biggest strength throughout this season has been its pack running. Their one through five split is usually right around a minute, so they’re all running pretty close together and look like a formidable wave. On Saturday their one through five split was only 34 [seconds] and they had an 18:22-average pace.”

The coach said the team’s number one runner, Walker Hedrich, was unavailable for the trip to Rhode Island due to his role in the school’s play performances of Mamma Mia! over the weekend, “but the boys held their own. They came in 27th out of 30 teams, and finished as the fourth Maine team, the same as the result from the state meet. Not only did they hold their own, but they significantly closed the gap between themselves and the No. 3 Maine team, even without our number one runner. Having raced with so much talent, they now know what to expect.”

Bonzi said next year’s New England championship meet will be in Belfast on the Troy Howard Middle School course, “so the boys figure they will have home-course advantage. The team’s takeaway from this meet is that they want to up their game, return next year, and make it into the top half of the finishing teams, or better. We will not be losing a single runner from our top seven next year and they are pumped and ready to take it on.”

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