The best high school cross country runners from the region will descend on Twin Brook Recreation Area in Cumberland Saturday for the 78th edition of the New England Cross Country Championships.

Saturday’s races — the boys take off at 11:30 a.m. and the girls an hour later — will mark only the second time since 1976 that Maine has hosted the event. The other was in 2007, and included an alleged incident of a spectator throwing sand in the eyes of a Lewiston runner, Mohamed Noor, that was never resolved.

Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont and New Hampshire are sending their top six teams and top 25 individuals to Twin Brook. Only Massachusetts, whose cross country schedule runs through next weekend, will be absent.

“I’m excited to have a nice race with a bunch of really fast girls,” said Waterville senior Bethanie Brown, who won the Class B state title two weeks ago in Belfast in a time (17:56) nearly a minute faster than anyone else regardless of class. “I think it’s going to be a really close race.”

The girls’ field includes defending champion Elle Purrier of Richmond, Vt., as well as Top 10 returnees Taylor Spillane (Champlain Valley Union, Vt.), Markie Palermo (Essex Jct., Vt.) and Elizabeth Conway (Manchester, N.H.).

Brown was fifth a year ago, in Rhode Island.

“It’s going to be a couple of us girls up front fighting it out,” Brown said. “I don’t know what will end up happening in terms of winning, but I think I’ll be in the running.”

The boys’ race features a reprise of the battle between Ellsworth junior Dan Curts and Fryeburg Academy senior Silas Eastman, who have raced within a split second of each other at the state track meet in June, the Manchester Invitational in September and the Class B state meet in October. Eastman won on the track and Curts on the trails.

“We’ve become better friends after the last race,” Curts said. “We’ve talked a couple times online. We’re going to try to work together as well as we can to try to represent our state. It should be a lot of fun.”

A year ago in Rhode Island, Eastman finished 10th and Curts 19th, with seniors taking the top six spots. The two returnees who beat Eastman last fall are Henry Wynne (Staples High, Conn.) and Jake Kilcoyne (Chariho High, R.I.), who placed seventh and eighth.

Rhode Island state champ Trevor Crawley, who finished second to a Canadian runner at the Festival of Champions in Belfast earlier this fall, is another top competitor.

Maine’s top two qualifying teams are the Bonny Eagle girls and the Massabesic boys.

“Now that the boys have proven themselves to be a pretty good team within the state,” Massabesic coach Mark Crepeau said, “they want to see how they can do against the great competition from other New England states.”

Class B champion Mt. Desert Island, Massabesic, Cheverus, Camden Hills and Class C champ Washburn also qualified among girls’ teams. The other Maine boys’ teams are Scarborough, Lewiston, Class B champ Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth and Class C champ Hall-Dale.

“It’s kind of weird being the last team standing,” Crepeau said of practicing after the clocks have been turned back and dusk arrives earlier. “It’s absolutely the last race. They’re going to go out and let it rip.”

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be

contacted at 791-6425 or at:

gjordan@pressherald.com

Twitter: GlennJordanPPH