Runners head to the finish line during the boys cross country North regionals last Saturday in Belfast. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Back in early September, Portland High cross country coach Kevin Woodhouse shared his expectations for the upcoming season.

Numbers looked promising for the Bulldogs, who nearly doubled their roster from 12 boys in Woodhouse’s first year to 23 entering his second season this fall.

“We have a hungry bunch of guys that, if we can stay healthy, can make some noise this year,” Woodhouse said at the time. “The team is planning on qualifying for the state meet for the first time in quite a few years.”

Qualifying? Yeah, Portland managed to qualify in last weekend’s Southern Maine Regional at Twin Brook in Cumberland. Despite not breaking into the top 10 individually, the Bulldogs delivered a regional title by packing four runners between 11 and 21 and having two more finish another half minute later.

On Saturday in Belfast, Portland will attempt to win its first Class A state title since 1978. The Maine Principals’ Association’s cross country championships in three enrollment classes will be held at Troy Howard Middle School, starting at 11 a.m.

“There are some really strong teams in both the north and south regions this year,” Woodhouse said earlier this week. “We are happy to be part of that and are hoping to do well (on Saturday). Our top seven like the course and are looking forward to returning to the place we raced well earlier this year.”

Four weeks ago in Belfast, Portland placed fourth among 55 schools at the Festival of Champions. Brunswick, which has never won a state title, took top honors at the festival. The Dragons followed up with their first KVAC championship and last weekend held off Hampden Academy by four points to win the Class A North title.

“Portland is very similar to us,” said Brunswick Coach Dan Dearing. “Their grouping is very tight and I know they’re an improving team.”

At the festival, Brunswick’s fifth runner finished before Portland’s second, so the Bulldogs will have to run better Saturday in order to have a chance.

“We are not so concerned with the times as we are with racing well,” Woodhouse said. “Placement is key in a state meet and with a strong core of runners, we hope to be very competitive.”

South Portland and Bonny Eagle, which finished second and third in the South, will be in the hunt along with Hampden and Bangor from the North.

Among Class A girls, the meet is more clear cut. Bonny Eagle of Standish is the favorite to win a third straight state title and seventh of nine. The Scots swept the top three places last weekend at Twin Brook and had six runners average sub-7 minute miles on a more challenging course. In Belfast, Mt. Blue edged Bangor in a tiebreaker for the North title with Camden Hills not far behind.

Even so, only four Mt. Blue runners clocked sub-7 miles and only three from Bangor and Camden Hills did likewise. Like the Brunswick boys, the Bonny Eagle girls also won the Festival of Champions– by more than 100 points over the closest Maine school, Mt. Desert Island.

In Class B, York’s boys and the MDI girls both appear stronger than their respective fields. The top five York runners all beat a 6-minute pace at Twin Brook while none of the North teams could match that on a flatter and more forgiving course.

The MDI girls ran away with the B North title, cramming all seven runners inside the top 15. Cape Elizabeth won a squeaker in B South, with only three points separating the top three teams, which included York and Lincoln Academy.

In Class C, Orono sophomore Ruth White is the main attraction, having set course and meet records in Belfast at the Festival of Champions in early October, clocking a 17:28.46 to bump Falmouth’s Sofie Matson (17:35 in 2019) and Julia Robitaille of New Hampshire (17:31 in 2017) down the all-time list.

Team-wise, Houlton, Orono, Maranacook and Waynflete should battle for the girls crown while Orono, Maine Coast Waldorf and Boothbay-Wiscasset are the favorites among boys.


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