Here’s a little math equation for high school cross country fans: What does 61 schools with 1,239 runners equal?
The answer: The largest field in the seven-year history of the Maine Cross Country Festival of Champions.
The annual midseason invitational in Belfast will commence Saturday morning at 11:30 at the Troy Howard Middle School, and the fields on both the girls and boys sides appear to be deeper than ever.
“It’ll be exciting, I don’t think there’s a clear favorite,” said Brewer coach and meet director Glendon Rand of the girls race, which features eight of the top 10-ranked teams in the Maine Track and Cross Country Coaches Association poll.
The boys unseeded race gets things going at 11:30, followed by the girls unseeded race at 12:10, the boys freshmen race at 12:50, girls freshmen at 1:30, girls seeded at 2:10 and boys seeded at 2:50.
The meet features 60 schools from Maine and Rhode Island power Cumberland, whose boys last won here in 2003.
Scarborough, Brewer, York, John Bapst of Bangor, Brunswick, Catherine McAuley of Portland, Caribou and Mount Desert Island, along with Mt. Blue of Farmington and Bangor, are all shaping up to be strong contenders in the girls field.
“It’s going to be, obviously, the most stacked the girls meet’s ever been,” Rand said. “Scarborough appears to be tough, [but] they haven’t run outside of [the Southern Maine Activities Association] so who knows how they’ll stack up against [Brewer], York and Brunswick.”
Perhaps the biggest subplot in this drama is the fact it’s very possible freshmen could occupy the top three slots.
Abbey Leonardi of Kennebunk, Fiona Hendry from Cheverus in Portland and Maranacook of Readfield’s Abby Mace have been ripping up the trails so far this fall.
Now, the only question is, will they compete in the freshman race or the seeded race.
“My feeling is all three should be in the same race,” Rand said.
Mace missed the Black Bears’ meet last Friday at Brunswick due to a sprained ankle, but coach Rosalea Kimball expects her to compete.
Does Leonardi have a chance to better Cassie Hintz’s course record of 17 minutes, 48 seconds?
“I’m sure it’s possible, it’s a pretty darn good course record. That’s pretty quick,” Rand said of the mark set by Old Town’s Hintz in 2004.
Leonardi may have a chance at the record if the course dries out well after last weekend’s rain and if temperatures on race day are ideal.
Among the other top individuals headlining the girls race are Mt. Blue junior Melody Lam, John Bapst junior Kim Spencer, MDI senior Heather Spurling and Mary Jo Sheehan and Hannah Saunders of Caribou.
In the team competition, this meet will be a good barometer for a lot of coaches as the championship meets draw near. Rand’s Witches will be gunning for a top-3 finish, or perhaps better.
“Who knows where we’ll end up, we’re just going to run hard and do our best. We’ll see what happens,” he said.
Falmouth is the reigning meet champion.
The boys side is just as stacked, and features a wide-open individual field.
Among the lead runners are Nate Hathaway of Scarborough, Kelton Cullenberg of Mt. Blue, Will Geoghean of Brunswick, Jason Kaake of Morse in Bath, Cony of Augusta’s Luke Fontaine, Foxcroft’s Graham Pearsall, Lewiston’s Robbie Leeman and Matt Driscoll, and James LePage of Greely in Cumberland Center.
Kellenberg recently returned to action after undergoing an appendectomy earlier this month.
“There’s a lot of good runners,” Rand said.
As will be the case in the girls meet, there are a number of boys’ teams which could wind up taking the top slot.
Greely, which has been ranked atop the polls all season, along with Scarborough, Lewiston, Brunswick, Caribou, Cheverus, Falmouth, Mt. Blue, York and Foxcroft Academy are all formidable contenders.
The Blue Devils are the reigning meet champs.
“I guess you could probably say that Greely is the favorite, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Scarborough or Lewiston won it,” said Rand.
Since the state championship meet will be run at Belfast this fall, a lot of teams will get an early glimpse of the trails they will traverse on Nov. 1.
While the meet format remains the same — the top five runners based on time will contribute to a team’s final score, no matter which race they run in — there have been a couple of changes to the challenging but fast 5K course.
One significant switch is that the wooden footbridge about a quarter-mile from the 2½-mile mark has been widened in preparation for the large field.