AUGUSTA — The 15th annual Scot Laliberte Invitational has long been the biggest preseason cross country race in the state, and its reach still seems to be growing.

A fixture on the schedule of teams from central and western Maine high schools, the Laliberte is adding even more of the state’s top runners this year with teams from southern Maine such as Yarmouth and South Portland joining the field.

“It’s nice to start drawing some of the southern teams up here,” Cony coach Shawn Totman said.

Totman expects 24 teams to bring close to 500 runners to Cony High School for next Friday’s race.

The popular format remains the same. All boys’ and girls’ varsity runners start together at 4 p.m., and their scores are combined to determine the team results.

The course is shorter than regular meets — 2.4 miles rather than 3.1 miles — to give novices or competitors who may not have run most of the summer a bit of a break, as well as to keep the race’s mission at the forefront.

“There’s no pressure,” Totman said. “We’re just trying to get kids out there, having a good time and enjoying what high school cross country is all about.”

The race still stokes the competitive fires because it’s the first time many of the runners expecting to battle it out for spots on the podium will see each other this season. It’s also a rare opportunity for boys and girls teams to join forces for bragging rights.

“The great thing about this race is it’s preseason, but it’s an incredible pool of talent that’s running,” Totman said. “We take the top five runners from each team and combine the score, so it really weighs heavily to schools that have talented girls teams. A really good boys team can’t really win it by themselves. In fact, it’s usually the other way around.”

With that in mind, Totman thinks Brunswick, Lewiston, Maranacook, Mt. Ararat, Mt. Blue and South Portland could be the favorites.

Among the top girls expected to race are Cony’s Anne Guadalupi, Anne McKee of Kents Hill, Tessa Cassidy of Brunswick and South Portland’s Casey Loring. Mt. Blue’s Aaron Willingham and Dan Lesko, Logan Moses of Messalonskee and Winthrop’s Ben Allen are among the top boys’ runners expected.

Former Cony coach Tom Wells started the race in honor of Laliberte, a former standout runner at Cony who was killed in a car accident in 2000. Wells returns annually to tell runners why he started the race, which is one of the high points on the schedule for Cony runners — even though it’s still preseason.

“Scot Laliberte really left a mark at Cony, not just as a great athlete but as a great person,” Totman said. “All of our kids understand that. And with it being on our course and practically the biggest race of the year in the entire state makes it that much more special for them.”

A junior varsity race follows immediately after the conclusion of the first race.

• • •

Rangeley’s boys’ and girls’ soccer teams will have a new temporary home field this season while work on their regular pitch at the high school undergoes a $90,000 face lift.

The project, which includes installing new drainage and sod, is well underway according to Rangeley girls’ coach Chip Smith. Since new sod needs time to take root, the Lakers will spend the 2014 season playing on a softball field behind the Rangeley town office.

“It’s a slightly smaller facility,” Smith said. “One of the corners is on the infield dirt. We’re just a little bit out of our element right now.”

Smith still expects the Lakers, coming off a 5-7-3 2013 season that ended with a loss to Searsport in the Class D West quarterfinals, to improve on last year’s showing. Seniors Taylor Esty, Valerie Lessard and 6-foot-1 junior sweeper Blayke Morin lead one of the more experienced teams the Lakers have had in recent years.

That experience took a hit, however, when center-midfielder Seve Deery-Deraps decided to sit out the season due to a nagging leg injury.

“It will hurt a bit,” Smith said. “She has a stress fracture. It’s an injury that plagued her last soccer season. She missed some time with it during basketball — which is her first love — and then she got through softball season, but it just hasn’t been at full strength so it was decided that it wasn’t worth risking anything. We’ll miss her leadership.”

• • •

Golf has the shortest season of any high school sport in Maine, but for one local school the season has ended before it even began.

Winslow athletic director Jason Briggs confirmed via e-mail Thursday that the Black Raiders will not have a team this fall.

“We are not sponsoring a golf team at this point,” Briggs wrote.

Briggs was not available to comment.

Staff Writer Evan Crawley contributed to this report.

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @RAWmaterial33

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