The biggest cross country meet of the regular season takes place Saturday in Belfast.
The annual Festival of Champions will gather 72 schools from around Maine, as well as five other schools from around New England and Canada.
“There’s always tough competition there because there’s not just Maine teams,” Mt. Blue coach Kelley Cullenberg said. “We have a couple of teams from Canada and a couple from Rhode Island and a couple from Vermont. Those schools are traveling to participate in this event because they feel they might do fairly well.”
The five teams traveling from outside the state are Moses Brown (Cumberland, R.I.), Burrillville High School (Burrillville, R.I.), Harwood Union High School (South Duxbury, Vt.), Dr. J.H. Gillis High School (Antigonish, Nova Scotia) and Colonel Gray High School (Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island).
For the Maine schools, the race allows the top runners to compete against each other, regardless of class.
“Festival of Champions is the biggest race that the kids participate in,” Cullenberg said. “It’s bigger than the state meet because the kids have the opportunity to run against kids not just in their class. I think that’s a good indicator on where the rest of the season might go potentially.”
Eleven local schools signed up for the event, and it’s the last meet in which they will before the start of “Championship Season.” Most schools have the weekend of Oct. 10 and 11 off with conference championships following the weekend thereafter.
The regional meets are on Oct. 25, followed by the state meets on Nov. 1.
“It’s going to be good practice for what championship season is going to be,” Oxford Hills coach Kristin Dacko said. “You got a lot of top runners and athletes there. So I think the kids are going to get the sense when we get to that point of the season.”
The course at Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast, which will also be used for the state championship races.
“The Festival of Champions is a great race because it’s a fast course,” Leavitt coach Dustin Williamson said. “It’s a great time to get a (personal record), to get some fast times, to get the legs going speed wise and to turn the legs over quicker.”
Cassie Hintz of Old Town set the girls’ meet record (17:48) 10 years ago. The boys will be chasing former Brunswick Dragon Will Geoghegan’s time of 15:33, set five years ago.
“I am excited for the Festival of Champions because I can see where I can place with time on a fast course against the girls I am going to be competing against at states or out of state who I may be competing with at New Englands,” Mt. Blue’s Maggie Hickey said.
“I really want to get in the (16:15-16:20 range) for the race,” Leavitt’s Harrison Knowlton said. “I am not really looking anything place-wise, it’s definitely all about the time.”
With many schools signing up during the summer to make sure they get a spot in the field, Oxford Hills just found out it had secured a spot.
“Because our (school) district changed emails this year, we actually missed the entry,” Dacko said. “(The Festival of Champions) ended up having enough spots for us. So we just found out a couple of weeks ago, that we are back in. The kids are really thrilled.”