FOC Girls Preview: Course Record Chase On

65 Maine schools and 12 out-of-state schools will make the trip to Belfast on Saturday to run in the 18th annual Festival of Champions at Troy Howard Middle School. Since its opening year in 2002, 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. The meet has grown from 169 finishers on the girls side in year one, to a record 749 in 2017. For the 2018 edition there are 752 females entered, they will be split across three different races, the unseeded, the freshman and the seeded.

Bonny Eagle took the girl's team title in 2018 and enters as the favorite to repeat. Nine teams ranked in the most recent MileSplit50 Team Rankings are scheduled to compete including #1 Bonny Eagle the defending champion, #2 Scarborough and #3 Camden Hills

Everyone will be chasing two time defending FOC champion Sofie Matson of Falmouth, who ran 18:21.52 a year ago to win. Matson has been on fire in 2019, and the meet record of 17:56.69 could go down in conditions allow for it, twice this season Matson has run faster than the record on other courses. 

13 of the top 15 runners ranked in the MileSplit50 Girls' Watchlist are entered so there will be plenty of talent on display.  Let's take a look at the top teams and individuals.

Girls Individuals

Sofie Matson (Falmouth) Junior - Best FOC time 18:17.33 (2017 & 2018 Champion) MileSpilt50 #1

Matson is the two time defending champion, and is the heavy favorite to make it three in a row. Matson has been spectacular in 2019 smashing her own course record of 18:15 at the Southern Maine XC Classic with the third fastest xc 5k in state history with her winning effort of 17:29. She also has broken records at the SMAA Relays, & Falmouth this season. Last time out she clocked 17:49 at Westbrook winning easily again. She'll be chasing the 17:56.69 meet record of Bethanie Brown (Waterville), and the course record at Belfast of 17:31 by Julia Robitaille (Manchester West, HS)

Lila Gaudrault (Cape Elizabeth) Junior Best FOC time 18:51.36 MileSplit50 #2

Gaudrault finished 7th a year ago at FOC. The junior has have a great start to her 2019 xc season winning four races to date. She placed fourth in hot and steamy conditions at the Manchester Invitational, and followed that up with a Twin Brook personal best of 19:32 last Friday. Lila ranks 28th fastest in meet history and is primed to move up the all-time list on Saturday. 

Karley Piers (Falmouth) junior Best FOC time 18:57.76 MileSplit50 #3

Piers has taken her running to another level in her junior year. She finished 9th a year ago, and enters Saturday ranked MileSplit50 #3. Karley had perhaps the best race of her career at the Hoka Southern Maine XC Classic where she was under the old course record with her runner-up finish of 18:13.51. She also clocked the third fastest time in course history at Falmouth, while last time out she clocked a 19:20 at Westbrook. She enters with the 30th fastest time in meet history. 

Kayla Werner (Scarborough) Sophomore Best FOC time 20:27.22 MileSplit50 #4

Werner has made a big jump from her freshman campaign to one of the best runners in the state as a sophomore. She clocked a personal best 18:50.82 to finish second at the Hoka Southern Maine XC Classic freshman/sophomore race, the time was fifth best overall. Kayla has won two races this fall, including last time out at Biddeford in a time of 19:49. A year ago she placed eighth in the freshman race at FOC. 

Olivia Reynolds (Maine Coast Waldorf) Junior Best FOC time 18:47.60 MileSplit50 #5

Reynolds the two time defending class C state champion finished fifth at FOC last year making her the third fastest returner in 2019. Reynolds clocked a seasonal 19:15.42 placing 4th in the junior/senior race at Hoka Southern Maine XC Classic. She has won her last two races including last week's 20:49 effort at Yarmouth.

Delaney Hesler (Bonny Eagle) Sophomore - Best FOC time 19:15.15  MileSplit50 #6

Hesler opened her season with a personal best 18:32.58 to win the freshman/sophomore race at the Hoka Southern Maine XC Classic. She was the runner-up in the freshman race at FOC a year ago clocking 19:15.15. After a week off Hesler should have plenty of run in her legs this weekend.

Kahryn Cullenberg (Mt Blue) Senior - Best FOC time  19:33.46 MileSplit50 #7

Cullenberg has continued her steady improvement year over year, and senior year looks to be her best yet.  She started her off her season with a victory at the Laliberte Invitational, and has won three more times since. Her best effort has been a 20:12 win at Leavitt two weeks ago, she followed that up with a 20:24 win at Lincoln Academy. A year ago Kahryn ran to a 13th place effort in the seeded race.

Kate Tugman (Gorham) Senior - Best FOC time 19:02.99 MileSplit50 #8

Tugman has used a different approach this fall, backing off from early season races, in order to feel strong at the end of the season. She started the year off with a bang though with a runner-up finish at SMAA Relays followed by a 18:52 5k win at Thornton Academy. Kate nabbed a 19:03.90 effort at Hoka Southern Maine XC Classic finishing third in the junior/senior race. A year ago Tugman placed 8th at FOC. She's had the last two weeks off from racing, so expect the legs to be ready to roll this weekend. 

Lydia Gilmore (Bangor) Senior - Best FOC time 20:02.39 MileSplit50 #10

Gilmore has been ripping up the KVAC this fall, winning four races to date. She nabbed a personal best 19:25 for 5k at Hampden Academy. Lats time out she won at the tough Cony course with a strong 20:28 effort. At FOC a year ago she placed 32nd running 20:45, all indications are she'll be ready to be well under 20 minutes this weekend.

Megan Randall (Scarborough) Sophomore - Best FOC time 19:19.23 MileSplit50 #11

Randall placed third in the freshman race at FOC a year ago in a personal best 19:19.23. In 2019 she placed third at Hoka Southern Maine Classic in the freshman/sophomore race in a time of 19:30. She didn't race a week ago so she should have the legs to chase a new personal best.

Emmaline Pendleton (Bonny Eagle) Sophomore - Best FOC time 20:25.28 MileSplit50 #12

Pendleton comes into FOC with a best effort of 19:42.34 on the season, she clocked that finishing 4th in freshman/sophomore race at SM Classic. She was the top Bonny Eagle finisher in the Large School race at Manchester two weeks ago. She had last week off so she will be looking to improve on her 20:25 time from her freshman campaign a year ago. 

Kristine Werner (Scarborough) Freshman - MileSplit50 #13

Werner is the younger sister of #4 rank Kayla, and the duo has vaulted the Red Storm almost to the top of the rankings. Kristine has started very strong clocking a sub 20 minutes effort at SM Classic with her 19:42.66 effort to finish fifth, the top freshman in the race. Since then she has run 20:57 @ Scarborough, and 20:35 @ Biddeford. She's seeded first in the freshman race at FOC.

Addie Fuller (Marshwood) MileSplit50 #14

Fuller just a freshman has had a strong start to her first year campaign. She was 7th in the freshman/sophomore race at Hoka SM Classic running a personal best 20:04.43. She added the first win of season last week on her home course clocking a strong 20:49 on a tough course.

Team Preview

Bonny Eagle the defending team champions are the favorite to repeat as team champions. The Scots have been ranked #1 in the MileSplit50 coaches poll all season long. They are led by MileSplit50 #6 Delaney Hesler, and MileSplit50 #12 Emmaline Pendleton. Bonny Eagle has plenty of depth behind them though with Hannah Stevens & Emma Abbott who have both run 20:31 for 5k, add in Ella Dunne 20:46, and you have the best top five in the state.

Scarborough has seen a resurgence this fall that has the Red Storm ranked MileSplit #2 enter FOC. Scarborough has one of the best top threes in the state with MileSplit50 #4 Kayla Werner, MileSplit50 #11 Megan Randall, & MileSplit50 #13 Kristen Werner which gives them so low sticks. Scarborough hasn't shown it has the depth to contend with Bonny Eagle just yet, they will need a couple of girls to improve to have a shot.

MileSplit50 #3 Camden Hills has been without #1 Grace Iltis for the last two weeks, she is entered and has a best of 20:13 on the year. She needs to be in the lineup for the Windjammers to run at their best. Claire Wyman & Elise Hildreth are capable runners with times of 20:15 & 20:47 respectively on the season. Two year ago they took the team title, can they find that magic and do it again?

Portland, MileSplit50 #4 is the most improved team in the state thanks to an influx of freshman. Annabelle Brooks leads the way for the Bulldogs she is the #2 seed in the freshman race. Tenley Flint is another of those freshman who has a best of 20:37 on the season. This will be a step up in competition for Portland, one they aren't used too, so it will be interesting to see how they respond on Saturday.

No one has more fire power up front than MileSplit50 #5 Falmouth. With defending champion Sofie Matson leading the way, and potential runner-up Karley Piers, they could start with a score of three for their first two runners. The question will be can the other three in the top five step it up enough to move the Yachstmen up, don't count the out that's for sure.

Other ranked teams to watch for are #6 Gorham with MileSplit50 #8 Kate Tugman leading the way, #7 Cape Elizabeth, who I think might be one of the most underrated teams in the state heading into FOC, led by MileSplit #2 Lila Gaudrault. #8 ranked Mt Desert Island will get their first test of the season, while #9 Yarmouth will look to be the top Class B school along with the Trojans, and Capers.

Out of State Individual Contenders

Siona Chisholm (JH Gillis) Junior - Best FOC finish 18:46.79 -4th place 2019

Mairin Canning (JH Gillis) Junior - Best FOC finish 18:48.19 - 6th place 2019

Ava Thurston (Harwood, VT) Sophomore - Best FOC finish 18:59.13 - 1st place freshman race 2019

Out of State Team Contenders

JH Gillis from Antigonish, Nova Scotia might be the team to beat. With the dynamic duo of Siona Chisholm & Mairin Canning leading the way. They finished 4th & 6th respectively a year ago in the seeded race. Based on seeds they have sophomore Emma Cameron (20:00) along with a pair of freshman Anna Robinson (20:00) & Mariah Austen (20:30). If they hit those times they should be able to challenge Bonny Eagle for the team win.