Corey Conner of the University of Maine will chase All-America status and Maine high school competitors will take on their regional counterparts Saturday as the spring season winds down in outdoor track and field.
Conner is running at the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships, while Maine high schoolers are competing in the 67th New England Championships.
Conner, a junior from Townsend, Mass., hopes to have a strong effort as she tries to finish in the top eight and earn All-America recognition at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. She is the No. 6 seed in the 5,000-meter run, which will be held Saturday at 1:19 p.m.
“I’m just excited to be here and be a part of it,” Conner said Friday. “I’m not expecting to come out here and pull off a win or anything like that.
“I’ve worked really hard this season to get here, so I just want to take it in, enjoy it and still run really hard, run my best,” Conner said.
Conner’s seed time is 16 minutes, 22.77 seconds, although she has run considerably faster than that time, which was clocked at the NCAA East Regional three weeks ago. Her personal best in the 5,000 is 15:59.66, the America East record, which she set May 6 during the conference championships held at the Beckett Family Track and Field Complex in Orono.
Conner will be chasing the likes of No. 1 seed Megan Goethals of Washington, who goes in with a seed time of 15:46.82. She knows it will be a daunting task.
“It’s such a talented group of girls that are here and who I’m running with,” Conner said. “When you get to the NCAAs and you think about how good everyone is, all the big-name schools and elite runners, it kind of does overwhelm you. But I feel more excited, ready to go.”
This will be Conner’s fourth appearance at an NCAA title meet, but her first time running the 5,000. She doesn’t know exactly what kind of race tactics to expect.
“You’re going to be running with people,” said Conner, who won’t have to be the frontrunner, as she often is. “I have the luxury of kind of sitting back and trying to stay with people. It’s a lot less stressful. My game plan is to try to hang in there, run as well as I can.”
In March 2011, she finished 11th in the 5,000 meters at the NCAA indoor championships and in November 2010 she placed 42nd at the Division I cross-country title meet. She also ran at the 2009 cross country championships, finishing 83rd.
Hill Stadium at Thornton Academy in Saco is the site of New England Championships.
The meet begins at 10 a.m. and tickets are $10, with preschool-age children admitted free.
Most of Maine’s standouts will struggle to contend with a star-studded cast of performers from across the Northeast. Among the hopefuls is Bethanie Brown of Waterville.
The junior distance runner enters the meet the top seed in the 3,200 meters with a time of 10 minutes, 34.79 seconds. That is more than four seconds faster than No. 2 seed Reid Watson of Glastonbury, Conn. (10:39.41).
“She is just a relentless competitor and worker,” said Waterville High coach Ian WIlson.
“She has worked hard on building an aerobic base,” he explained. “This past year, she decided to increase her mileage during the summer and to run cross-country. Becoming a year-round runner gave her some strength and a base that really took her to another level.”
Brown is coming off a record-setting effort Saturday at the Class B state championship meet in Bar Harbor. She established two Class B standards, defending her title in the 1,600 (4:55.23) and winning the 3,200 (10:34.79).
The 3,200 time shattered the previous mark of 10:39.43 set in 2004 by former Old Town High phenom Cassie Hintz.
Brown, who also will run the 4×400 relay Saturday, then gears up for the New Balance outdoor nationals, scheduled for June 14-16 in Greensboro, N.C.
Wilson said Brown has big-meet experience and won’t be intimidated by the strong New Englands field.
“The neat thing about Bethanie is, she enjoys the challenge of running against good competition,” he said. “She’s not a kid who gets real nervous. She’s really eager to get to New Englands and test herself and see what she can do.”
Maine has several other highly seeded athletes at the New Englands, including Nicole Kirk of Scarborough, who is seeded second in the 100 after running a Class B-record 12.25 Saturday to take the state title. Kirk is 10th in the 200.
Gorham’s Sarah Perkins also is among the challengers as the fifth seed in the 300 hurdles and the No. 6 seed in the 100 hurdles. Lindsey Folsom of Cony High in Augusta is tied for fifth in the pole vault, while Kate Hall of Lake Region in Naples (100) and Hannah Johnson of Kennebunk (high jump) are No. 6 seeds.
On the boys’ side, the hopefuls include two No. 5 seeds from Waterville, Devin Burgess in the pole vault and Nick Danner in the javelin.
Matt McClintock of Madison goes into the 3,200 as the sixth-fastest runner, but is seeded more than 12 seconds behind the leader. Rudy Pandora of Lewiston (shot put) is a 10 seed and Taylor Watson of Maranacook in Readfield is an 11 seed in the 300 hurdles.
“Generally, we like our kids to go down there and compete well and rub shoulders with some other highly-competitive athletes,” Wilson said. “The more kids do that, the higher their aspirations.”