With the Twin Brook Recreation Area in Cumberland hosting the state cross country championships this fall, Brewer High coach Glendon Rand was unsure if participation in the Maine Cross Country Festival of Champions would be affected.
More than 60 schools participated in the midseason meet at Belfast last fall, on the same course the 2008 state meet was held.
But 58 schools — including one from Rhode Island and another from Nova Scotia — will make their way to the Midcoast on Saturday for the eighth annual meet, which gets under way at 11:30 a.m. at Troy Howard Middle School.
Even though the number of schools isn’t quite as high as last year, Rand, the meet director, will take it.
“I didn’t know how many schools we were going to get,” he said. “I was hoping for 50, so I’m happy with 58.”
Racing gets under way with the girls unseeded section at 11:30 a.m., followed by the boys unseeded race at 12:10 p.m.
The freshman girls will go off at 12:50 p.m., the freshman boys at 1:30 p.m., the seeded girls at 2:10 and action wraps up with the seeded boys at 3 p.m.
Awards will commence at 3:30 p.m.
The field features eight of the state’s top-10 ranked teams entered in both the boys and girls meets.
Scarborough is back to defend its 2008 title in both genders, while challengers include the Cheverus of Portland boys and girls and the Gorham and York girls.
“On both sides we’ve got eight of the top-10 ranked teams coming to the meet; that boys [individual] race is going to be a thrash,” Rand said.
Thrash might be putting it lightly, as the boys field is stacked with contenders.
Among them are Luke Fontaine of Cony of Augusta, Will Geoghegan of Brunswick, Kelton Cullenberg of Mt. Blue of Farmington, Nate Hathaway of Scarborough, Jason Kaake of Morse of Bath, Cheverus’s Taylor Dundas, 2008 winner Alex Moser of York, Darik Frye of Hampden Academy, Sam Nisbett of Bangor and John Bapst of Bangor’s Gabe Stewart.
Fontaine, Cullenberg and Geoghegan are running as well as anybody right now, and Fontaine and Cullenberg have both set course records on some challenging trails — Fontaine at Cony and Cullenberg at Leavitt in Turner Center.
But, as was the case last year when Moser shocked everybody with his triumph, no runner in this field should be underestimated.
“I didn’t expect him to win, I don’t think many people did,” Rand said.
A bit of history will be made when the seeded boys race is held, as Mike Tate, a freshman for Dr. J.H. Gillis High of Nova Scotia, will be the first ninth-grade boy in meet history to compete in the seeded race.
He won the 1,600 meters at the Hershey Track and Field North American Final in 4 minutes, 36 seconds, and could contend.
In the team competition, expect a close battle between defending champion Scarborough and Cheverus, who are establishing themselves as the top teams in Class A.
Coach Jim Harmon’s Red Storm are paced by Hathaway, while Dundas leads the pack for coach Bruce Bickford’s Stags.
Eastern Maine teams expected to finish high include Hampden, which has a potent 1-2 punch in Frye and Evan Piccirillo; Mt. Blue, defending Eastern B champion Caribou, Cony and Brunswick.
While the boys race has an established blend of senior talent, the girls will feature a trio of youngsters who have made tremendous marks on Maine cross country.
And, they’re only sophomores.
Emily Durgin and Fiona Hendry of Cheverus and Abby Mace of Maranacook of Readfield, all top-10 at the New Englands last fall, headline a talented cast. Sophomore Abbey Leonardi of Kennebunk, the state and New England champ, will not be defending her 2008 festival title.
Durgin will make her festival debut, as she ran for Bonny Eagle of Buxton last fall before transferring to Cheverus, and while Leonardi and Kennebunk are not competing, the field still should be challenging.
“We lose Leonardi, but we gain Durgin and Mace,” Rand said. “Mace has been running fantastic so far this fall.”
Mia Rapella and Rachel Wilkinson of Gorham should be right up there as well, along with Melody Lam of Mt. Blue.
Old Town’s Dacie Manion is running extremely well early in the season, along with fellow Eastern Maine competitors Alecia Palmer of Presque Isle, Brianne Dunn of Ellsworth and Chelsie Oldfield of Foxcroft Academy.
The girls team race appears to be Cheverus’ to lose, as the Stags feature arguably the state’s most potent 1-2 punch in Durgin and Hendry, and a solid pack behind them in Liana Rubinoff, Amelia Lundkvist and Madeline Woods.
Defending Class A state champ Scarborough can’t be counted out, and coach Ron Kelly’s Red Storm are paced by Melissa Dellatorre and Abby Chick up front.
Gorham is a top-three threat as well, along with Falmouth.
There will be some excellent races within the meet, among them Eastern Class A contenders Brewer, Brunswick and Mt. Blue going at it and Class B heavyweights John Bapst, MDI and Caribou challenging one another.
Lam has been running well for coach Kelly Cullenberg’s Cougars, while Brunswick is paced by Kathleen McMahon.
Rand’s Witches are led by sophomore Sara Chavarie.
A special guest at the meet will be former Ellsworth and Stanford University running star Louie Luchini, who will distribute awards.