CONWAY — Saturday turned out bright, crisp and ideal temperatures for a rousingly successful 16th running of the Kennett Invitational Cross-Country Meet.
The Eagles' runners stepped up to the occasion in grand fashion, with 33 of 36 boys and girls turning in seasonal personal records.
Coach Bernie Livingston was overjoyed with the day.
The event kicked off with an inspiring national anthem rendition by a trio of Kennett girls vocalists and harriers.
In an economical, efficient meet, between noon -2 p.m., countless parents, Mountain Milers and cross-country running supporters set the course and timing devices, and laid out a spread of donated food that fed each of the 166 runners, sending guest team harriers home with full stomachs.
Results were promptly calculated and the awards ceremony completed, as well as recognition of KHS senior runners, on the occasion of their last home meet at the spectator-friendly 3.1-mile course behind Kennett Middle School in Conway Village.
The Kennett girls brought home first place with 35 points, narrowly edging Oyster River with 39.
Kingswood (70), Portsmouth (89) and Plymouth (132) completed the team scoring.
Individually, Lily Doody of Oyster River took top honors, dominating the field with a blistering time of 19:17. Seventy seconds back, McKayla Dockham led the Eagles, finishing second overall in 20:27.
Amy Burton was close on her heels, taking third in 20:31; Grace Castonguay took fifth in 21:02. The Eagles fourth finisher, Grace Perley, won a critical sprint to the finish, beating out a Bobcat for ninth place in 21:25. Sierra Abrams completed the KHS scorers with her 16th place finish in 22:02.
In the boys race, a powerhouse Oyster River team, among the top 10 in the state, including all four divisions, took top honors with 24 points. The Eagles boys took advantage of consistent peak performances all through their lineup to earn second with 79 points.
In a rarity of cross-country team scoring, this resulted in a tie with Portsmouth when counting the top five runners. Moving to the crucial tie-breaker, Kennett's sixth runner, Gavin Hunt, took 31st place in 19:36, eight seconds and two places ahead of Portsmouth's sixth runner, dropping the Clippers to third. Kingswood (4th, 85 points), Berlin (5th, 120), Plymouth (6th, 170) and Pembroke (7th, 182) rounded out the boys team results.
Individually, the Bobcats' Andrew O'Brien torched the course to win in 16:08. The Eagles' Chris Desmarais prevented an Oyster River podium sweep, taking third in 16:53. Personal record races from the KHS 2-5 runners were critical to their second place team effort. Keith Badger was 13th in 16:53. Ben Klementovich took 17th in 18:49. Tristan Smith finished 21st, crossing the line in 18:55. Logan Violette took 28th in 19:32.
Regarding both the girls' and boys' races, Livingston called it "a coach's dream. You couldn't ask for anything better. It's such a rarity when virtually every one of your runners puts in their best race."
Looking to the future, Livingston likes the girls' chances to finish in the top six of the Wilderness (divisional) meet three Saturdays hence, and thus to qualify as a team for the State Championship on Nov. 2.
For the boys, improvement from last year's 11th place Wilderness finish is a goal, and the Eagles are on target to date, currently seeded ninth based on current regular season results. While a top six team finish is a stretch, Livingston likes the steady progress of Desmarais, who can qualify for the state meet individually with a top 20 finish at Wilderness Meet.
Late-season races are setting up the Eagles in fine fashion to peak at the right time. The Eagles' very flat home course on Saturday is much like the course will be at Wilderness.
This Friday's meet at the Plymouth Invitational, a very hilly course, will be much like the course at State Championships.