AUGUSTA — Since it takes place on her home course, Anne Guadalupi may be a little biased in her assessment of the Scot Laliberte Invitational the perfect kickoff for the high school cross country season.

“I think it’s just a wonderful way to start of the season because there are so many runners and they run the boys and the girls together, so you just have this huge team,” Guadalupi said. “It’s a shorter race than we usually run, so it’s an easy and fun way to start off the season.”

History has shown the 450 or so runners who take part in the preseason race on Friday (4 p.m., Cony High School) will agree. The 2.4 mile race, now in its 15th year, attracts some of the top runners in the state.

When the gun goes off to start this year’s race, and every race that follows this season, Guadalupi will rightfully be considered one of the runners to beat. The Cony sophomore is coming off an impressive freshman season that saw her win the Eastern Maine Class A title and finish 10th in the state meet, despite some physical difficulties.

Healthy and armed with a valuable year of varsity experience to augment an unwavering competitive spirit, Guadalupi is eager to see what this season has in store for her,

“Last year, as a freshman, I didn’t have any times I wanted to do. Now, I want to beat those times,” she said. “I’m excited for this year. I can’t wait to see how I do.”

Cony coach Shawn Totman said he took a bit of a hands-off approach with Guadalupi last year, letting the freshman figure a lot of things out for herself and giving her room to grow as a runner, even though she already runs with a maturity many older runners lack.

“She’s just tough. She doesn’t want to lose a race. That mental toughness that you have to work on with some kids, she’s already got it,” he said.

Swimming is Guadalupi’s first love. She’s done it competitively since she was six, swims year-round at the Kennebec Valley YMCA and already holds school records in three events.

But she’s taken to cross country ever since sixth grade, when her father pulled her out of soccer and put her on the trail.

“I enjoy it,” she said. “I just love running in the woods. I like it a lot better than track. I’m a nature person, and just running in the woods is really nice.”

After an impressive middle school career, she started her high school career with a come-from-behind win in her first regular-season varsity meet. She was the top freshman at the Festival of Champions in Belfast, annually the biggest race in the state.

She followed that with her best performances of the year, finishing second at the KVAC championships, then running a PR of 20:40.40 to win the regional title. She finished 10th at states and second among Eastern A runners in a meet dominated by Western Maine competitors.

Guadalupi peaked for the season’s biggest meets despite having to combat vocal cord dysfunction, a disorder that constricts her airway. She’s learned exercises to overcome it, and also learned to curb the anxiety that often preceded an attack, which is often confused, but not related to, asthma.

“It’s definitely mental in some ways,” she said. “During the race, you’re thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, am I going to start having trouble breathing? When is this going to happen.’ I don’t like that anxious feeling.”

She had more anxious moments in the spring when a stress reaction in her foot limited her distance running.

Guadalupi took a month off after the spring season then focused more on swimming and biking over the summer, cross training which Totman thinks will reduce wear and tear and pay off in the long run.

It also appears to have paid off in the short run. Guadalupi reports the foot is as good as new.

“I started running again and it’s all better. There’s no pain,” she said.

“We’re just hoping that we have a clean season, without breathing issues, without any foot issues,” Totman said. “So far in her training, everything looks fantastic. She’s stronger than she was last year.”

An honor roll student and talented musician who plays the flute and has even dabbled on the accordion a bit, Guadalupi’s promise goes beyond the cross country trail and swimming pool.

“No matter how many wins that she gets on the cross country courses,” Totman said, “it’s going to pale in comparison to the type of person she is.”

That could be a lofty statement by the coach if Guadalupi continues to build upon what is already an impressive resume.

“I know Anne is up to the challenge,” Totman said.

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