65 Maine schools and nearly 15 out-of-state schools will make the trip to Belfast on Saturday to run in the 16th annual Festival of Champions at Troy Howard Middle School. Since its opening year in 2001, the meet has served as an opportunity for runners to compete against teams from all classes, as well as the chance to run a personal-best. Cumberland, Rhode Island took the girl's team title in 2016, but will face stiff competition from the top Maine teams, as well as a few out-of-state teams. Falmouth's Malaika Pasch is the top returner from last year's race, but is returning from is stress fracture and unfortunately won't be a factor. Yarmouth's Anneka Murrin was third in last year's race and has been on fire in 2017. However she will be seriously challenged by Pasch's teammate, Sofie Matson, as well as many others. Let's take a look at the top teams and individuals.
Sofie Matson (Falmouth) Matson might only be a freshman but she's been the best runner in the state so far in 2017. While her class has her own race on Saturday, Matson is slated to compete in the seeded race where she'll likely be the favorite. She won the Southern Maine XC Classic earlier this month, running 18:20 out of the freshmen race. Matson is the only runner in the state to have broken 19:00 twice this season after running 18:36 for the win at Kennebunk High School on Friday.
Anneka Murrin (Yarmouth) Murrin finished third overall last year, and has had a great 2017 season winning two of three races. Her season-best 5k of 18:28.74, which came at the Southern Maine XC Classic, is the second-fastest in the state. Having run the Belfast course on numerous occasions, Murrin could use her experience and knowledge of the course as an advantage over Matson. She also has 2:17 800m speed which will be important if the race comes down to a kick.
Carolyn Todd (Greely) Todd was fifth in the race a year ago. She ran a season-best of 18:44.99 at the Southern Maine XC Classic, finishing third, and picked up her first win of the season on September 15 on the difficult Libby Hill course in Gray-New Gloucester running 20:15. Todd has raced on the Belfast course two times in her career.
Jillian Richardson (Edward Little) Richardson didn't race last year and finished 101st overall in 2015 running 21:30.88. Richardson is far-and-away a better runner than she was in 2015. She was second at the Laliberte Invitational running 15:44.80 for 2.4-miles, and has a season-best 5k of 19:39.50, which is the fourth-fastest time in the KVAC in 2017. Her most recent performance at Belfast came at last year's Class A Championships where she finished 19th in 20:16.76.
Kathryn Miller (York) Miller has won two races in 2017 and comes into Saturday with a season-best of 19:06.03, which she ran at the Southern Maine XC Classic to finish fourth. That time is the fifth-fastest in the state regardless of class. Miller finished sixth in last year's race, and ran 18:57.67 her last time at Belfast at the Class B state meet.
Erin McGill (Glastonbury) If an out-of-stater is to win the girls' race on Saturday, look for Erin McGill of Glatsonbury High School in Connecticut to be in the mix. Her most recent performance came at the Ocean State XC Invitational last weekend where she finished 12th in the Championship race running 19:29 for 5k. McGill has excellent track credentials having run 2:13.55/5:04.31/11:41.23, and has run 59.15 seconds in the 400m, which makes her a huge threat if the race comes down to a kick.
Grace Iltis (Camden Hills) Ilits is undefeated thus far in 2017 and comes in with a season-best if 19:09.53, which she ran at Medomak Valley High School back on September 15. That time currently sits as the fourth-fastest in Class A this season. Iltis finished sixth in the freshmen race a year ago running 20:30.08, good for 46th overall.
Ami Beaumier (Bonny Eagle) Beaumier has two wins so far in 2017 with her most recent coming last Friday as she ran 19:07 for 5k at Thornton Academy in Saco. That time is a PB and the third-fastest in Class A this year. Beaumier was ninth at Festival of Champions last year running 19:16.13.
Bethany Sholl (Scarborough) Sholl's had a strong start to the 2017 season and comes in with positive momentum after running a PB of 19:12 at Thornton Academy in Saco last Friday. She ran to a fifth-place finish at the Southern Maine XC Classic earlier this month, running 19:12.83. Sholl finished 11th running 19:30.06 in last year's race.
Karley Piers Falmouth & Lila Gaudrault Cape Elizabeth The girls' freshman race should offer a great showdown between Piers and Gaudrault. Outside of Matson, these two have been the most impressive underclassmen in 2017. Piers got the better of Gaudrault at the Southern Maine XC Classic, finishing second in the freshmen/sophomore race running 19:11.15, with Gaudrault third in 19:14.27. Piers broke 20:00 for the second time this season last Friday, running 19:45 at Kennebunk High School to finish second behind Matson. Gaudrault recently ran 20:36 for 5k at Gray-New Gloucester back on September 15.
Gorham - The Gorham Rams come into Saturday as the pre-race team favorite. The Rams, no. 1 in the Flo 50 poll, were 28th out of 58 teams last year, but are a completely different team in 2017. They are undefeated so far in 2017. Their top three of Anna Slager, Iris Kitchen and Kate Tugman is dangerous and can be inter-changeable, and they almost always have a quick 1-5 split which is incredibly vital in a large meet like this. Slager, Kitchen and Tugman should all contend for top-15 to top-2- finishes, which would go a long way for the Rams. However they will need good races from Meadow Fortier and Sarah Johnson. The Rams recently won the Southern XC Classic earlier this month.
Cape Elizabeth - Cape Elizabeth, no. 3 in the Flo50 poll, finished seventh in 2016, and has a freshmen in Lila Gaudrault who has transformed the Capers in 2017. She'll be racing in the freshman race on Saturday, and will need to post a fast time to have a low stick for Cape Elizabeth. The Capers have strong 2-4 runners in Camilla Grosso, Mary Kate Hayes and Addie Hayes, who have finished close together in nearly every race this season. They will need to replicate that to have success on Saturday. However for them to contend for a top three finish, they'll need a big race from Grace Roberts. Cape finished second to Gorham at the Southern XC Classic.
Camden Hills - The Windjammers, no. 3 in the Flo50 Poll, have the most dangerous duo in Class A North this season, with Augusta Stockman and Grace Iltis leading the charge. Both athletes should contend for top-15 finishes on Saturday. They also have great depth, with six of its top seven having run 21:35 or better in 2017. Miranda Dunton will be key for Camden on Saturday. She's run 19:56 this season, and if she can minimize that gap between Camden's duo, the Windjammers will be in great position for a high finish. Camden finished ninth in 2016.
Yarmouth - Anneka Murrin will lead the charge for the Clippers, who finished third in 2016. Murrin was third individually last year and will likely need a similar effort for Yarmouth, no. 5 in the Flo 50 Poll, to contend for a high finish. The addition of Sophia Laukli has been huge for the Clippers this season, as it gives them a runner who should contend for a top-20 finish on Saturday. Greta Elder and Sadie Cowles have had strong seasons, having both run under 21:00 for 5k this season, but will need its fifth runner to have a breakout race this weekend.
Falmouth The Yachtsmen, no. 4 in the poll, are led by two freshmen phenoms in Sofie Matson and Karley Piers. Matson comes into the weekend as the individual favorite in the seeded race, while Piers should be favored in the frosh race. Piers will need to gun for a fast time to get a low stick. The weakness for Falmouth is its 1-5 spread. They have a strong three runner in Sophie Marcotte, who's run 21:37 this year, but will need strong runs from Caitlyn Camelio and Natalie Birkel to contend for a high finish.
Bonny Eagle is another team Maine team to watch. The Scots, no. 6 in the poll, have a tremendous top three in Ami Beaumier, Kayla Raymond and Christine Toy, who are all capable of top-15 finishes. Emma Abbott is a strong four runner for them, but like Falmouth, they'll need a big effort from its fifth runner in Ella Dunn.
If you're looking for an out-of-state team to take some hardware on Saturday, look for either JH Gillis Regional High School from Novia Scotia or Glastonbury High School from Hartford, Connecticut. JH Gillis finished 11th last year and has four girls seeded right at 20:00, which gives them more depth than most of the Maine teams. Expected to lead the way for them are freshmen Mairin Canning and Siona Chisholm. Based off their seed times, Glastonbury the top ranked team in Connecticut could potentially be the team to beat, with five girls having a time of 19:46 or better. If they truly have that kind of depth, they will be the favorites heading in.