Maine standouts have high hopes at New England cross country championships in Belfast

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Yarmouth High senior Luke Laverdiere and Falmouth freshman Sofie Matson had few opportunities to run with a pack this fall on Maine cross country trails.

That will change Saturday in Belfast, where the New England championships are scheduled at Troy Howard Middle School.

Laverdiere is attempting to become the first Maine schoolboy to win the regional crown since Louis Luchini of Ellsworth in 1998. Luchini, who went on to run at Stanford University, is now a four-term member of Maine’s House of Representatives.

“I ran that same course earlier this year at Festival,” said Laverdiere, referring to his personal best of 15 minutes, 10.86 seconds over the 5-kilometer course in the Festival of Champions, where he won by more than half a minute over a field that included top schools from Maine, New Hampshire and Rhode Island. “So I have experience on it.”

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Five New England states – Massachusetts, with a later season, is the exception – can send their top six teams and top 25 individuals to the regional meet, which was first held in 1935. The girls’ race is scheduled to begin at 11:30 a.m., and the boys race is at 12:30 p.m.

Edward Little’s Jillian Richardson and Oxford Hills’ Dominic Sclafani are the tri-county area’s representatives at the New England championships.

Laverdiere’s toughest competition is likely to come from Connecticut champion Drew Thompson of Fairfield Prep and Connecticut runner-up Brendan Murray of Cheshire. Thompson, who placed 35th in the Foot Locker Nationals last fall in San Diego, is headed for Dartmouth, and Murray plans to attend Yale. Laverdiere recently committed to Harvard.

Matson also won this year’s Festival, but the New England favorite is defending champion Jackie Gaughan of Exeter, New Hampshire. Gaughan, a senior who will continue her career at Notre Dame, placed 11th in last fall’s Foot Locker finals.

Another New Hampshire runner, Julia Robitaille of Manchester West, is a junior who placed sixth in New England as a sophomore. Connecticut champion Morgan McCormick, a senior from Wilton, should also contend.

“I’ll see how fast they go out,” Matson said, “and just try to stay with them as best as I can. It will be interesting to see how it turns out.”

Maine has produced nine individual New England champions — seven boys and two girls. Abbey Leonardi of Kennebunk won as a freshman in 2008, and Emily Durgin of Cheverus won as a sophomore in 2009.

The schoolboy winners prior to Luchini were Morris Toothaker of Phillips in 1938, Paul Firlotte of Ellsworth in 1951, Harold Hatch of Pemetic (Southwest Harbor) in 1956, Harvey Barlow of Deering in 1973, Bruce Bickford of Lawrence (Fairfield) in 1974 and Joe Belyea of South Portland in 1976.

“I’m going all out,” Laverdiere said. “I want to be one of those.”

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