AUGUSTA — Twenty-four schools and nearly 500 cross country runners are expected to line up today at Cony High School for the 14th annual Scot Laliberte Invitational.

The course has been shortened from the usual 5k or 3.1 mile distance to 2.4 miles since it is the first event of the season. The goal is a simple one.

“I want them to have fun,” Cony coach Shawn Totman said. “This is their first experience of the year running a race. The important thing is to have them run comfortably and have a good experience.”

Totman concedes the better runners are already in shape and will attack the course. It’s the first-year runners and novices that the shorter distance is designed for.

“A lot of the older kids already know what they want to do,” he said.

The boys and girls start together and the scores for each team are combined. Totman said schools that have a strong girls team tend to do well. Brunswick, led by Teresa Murphy, has a strong girls team while Mt. Ararat and Lewiston have strong boys teams. Totman believes his cony teams will far well, too.

“In this format I think we should do OK,” he said.

Individuals from local schools expect to do well include Mt. Blue senior Josh Horne who finished fourth overall in the Class A state meet last season. Others include Winthrop’s Ben Allen and Maranacook’s Austin Landry. On the girls side, Kents Hill sophomore Anne McKee is among the favorites. Local schools expected to compete include Cony, Erskine, Lawrence, Maine Central Institute, Maranacook, Messalonskee, Monmouth, Mt. Blue, Winthrop, Winslow, Oak Hill and Kents Hill.

The race honors Laliberte, a former standout runner at Cony, who was killed in a car accident on Mother’s Day in 2000. Former Cony coach Tom Wells organized the event and tells participants each year before the race what it’s all about. Trudy Ellis, Laliberte’s mother, helps give out awards and also says a few words about her son.

The race begins at 4 p.m. followed by a junior varsity race around 4:45.

As far as strategy goes, Totman tells his runners to strive for a negative split.

“Start out comfortably and push it the second half of the race,” he said.

Individual and team awards will be presented for the varsity rave while the JV race will honor individual winners.

“It’s a celebration of everything that running and cross country means,” Totman said.

Gary Hawkins — 621-5638

ghawkins@centralmaine.com