Today’s 76th New England Cross Country Championships in Vermont should feature dry skies, a muddy course and a couple of Maine-related subplots.

All the New England states except Massachusetts send their best high school teams and individuals to the event, hosted this year by Thetford Academy near Vermont’s western border.

Emily Durgin, a junior at Cheverus High, will defend her individual title and try to make it three in a row for Maine. Durgin won in the rain in Connecticut last year and finished second to Kennebunk High’s Abbey Leonardi two years ago in New Hampshire in their first year of high school competition.

As she did a year ago, Leonardi is skipping the New England meet in order to focus on the Foot Locker Northeast Regional race the Saturday after Thanksgiving in Long Island, N.Y. Last fall, both Leonardi and Durgin finished among the top 10 in the Regionals and qualified for the Foot Locker Nationals in San Diego.

Led by Durgin and teammate Fiona Hendry (13th), Cheverus placed fifth as a team in New England last fall, the best showing ever for a girls’ team from Maine.

“It would be really cool to finish up there (among the top three),” Durgin said Friday. “Right now, I’m just focusing on getting the lowest number I can to help the team. I’m a little nervous, but I’m excited at the same time.”

The girls’ race is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. and will feature 30 schools and 266 individual runners. In addition to Leonardi, who is currently ranked 11th in the country, Maine runners who opted out of the race include two-time Class B state champion Abby Mace of Maranacook and Class C state champion Merriconeag School. The small Waldorf’s school’s absence opened the door for Mt. Desert Island, which placed third in Class B and will join Cheverus, Mt. Ararat, Massabesic, John Bapst and Cape Elizabeth.

The boys’ race at 11:30 will mark the first time Fryeburg sophomore Silas Eastman, the unbeaten Class B state champion, will run against Madison junior Matt McClintock, the Class C champ with the fastest individual time of all Maine’s state championship meets.

McClintock lost once in Maine this fall, to Chase Brown of Boothbay Region in the Mountain Valley Conference championships in mid-October.

“He’s certainly looking forward to having a race with Matthew McClintock,” Fryeburg Coach Bill Reilly said. “The way he’s approaching it is, he’d like to make the top 25. For a sophomore to medal, I think that would be great.”

A year ago in Connecticut, a slow start put Eastman behind nearly everyone before finishing 98th. He’ll have to go out faster at Thetford, where the course narrows considerably after only about 200 meters of the 5K course. McClintock was 46th.

The six boys’ teams representing Maine are class champions Scarborough, Caribou and North Yarmouth Academy along with Mt. Ararat, Falmouth and Cape Elizabeth. The field is expected to include 270 runners.

“We’d like to improve on last year, when we were 12th,” said Scarborough Coach Jim Harmon. “We’d really like to be in the top 10, and if everybody on the team has a great day, maybe the top five. But it’s such a big unknown.

“There could be 25 teams that smoke us, or we could surprise ourselves and do better than we expect.”

 

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: [email protected]