AUGUSTA — The 15th annual Scot Laliberte Invitational went from a laid-back, preseason run for fun to a test of speed in the final 100 yards between Lewiston’s Isaiah Harris and Mt. Blue’s Aaron Willingham.

Harris closed on Willingham in the final 100 meters, then passed him in the final 30 to win the preseason race, which drew 470 runners from 23 schools to Cony High School on a cloudless Friday afternoon.

Anne McKee of Kents Hill was the top female finisher, while Brunswick topped Mt. Blue for the team title.

Harris, a highly-touted Division I track and field recruit, trailed Willingham throughout on the hilly course, which is shortened by .7 of a mile to 2.4 miles for the event.

“There were points where I was on his shoulder and then there were points where he had a bigger lead. I never had the lead, though, and near the end I kind of regretted letting him have such a big space,” Harris said. “There was nothing I could do. He’s a good runner. I feel like I’ve never seen him at his best because he had injuries last year.”

“The whole time I could hear everyone calling, ‘Go Isaiah. Yeah,'” Willingham said. “It was extremely close the whole race, and he just got me in the last 30 (meters).”

Harris finished in 13:17.76, little more than a half-second ahead of Willingham. Christopher Walfield of Morse was third. Dan Lesko of Mt. Blue (fourth), Winthrop’s Ben Allen (seventh), Ethan Harriman of Maranacook (ninth) and Messalonskee’s Owen Concaugh (10th) finished in the top 10.

McKee, the runner up in last year’s race, won the girls’ race with just a little bit more breathing room, posting a time of 15:58.23, nearly four seconds ahead of runner-up Tessa Cassidy of Brunswick.

“Tessa caught up to me right at the final turn. We were kind of duking it out right up this final hill (about 100 meters from the finish). I got the distance and went for it there,” McKee said. “My time was lot faster this year than last year, which is great.”

Cony’s Anne Guadalupi was third. Other local top 10 finishers were Sophia Oliveri of Gardiner (fourth), Mt. Blue’s Maggie Hickey (fifth), Hannah Despres of Maranacook (sixth) and JoAnn Bourgoin of Winslow (seventh).

Mt. Blue posted the lowest boys’ team score, Yarmouth the lowest girls’ score. Brunswick finished 58 points ahead of Mt. Blue for the combined team title, followed by Yarmouth, Lewiston and Maranacook.

Runners and coaches debate whether the race’s format makes it a valuable a sneak peak of the competition in 2014. That isn’t why it’s nearly quadrupled in size in 15 years, anyway.

“It’s a great way to get everyone excited for the season to come,” Erskine Academy coach Scott Minzy said.

“I know a lot of people from different teams and I don’t get to see them all that often,” Willingham said. “This race is really big and I like seeing everyone. The people in cross country are such nice people.”

Former Cony coach and Laliberte race director Tom Wells started the race in 2000 with 10 teams and 120 runners running in memory of former Cony standout Scot Laliberte, who died in an automobile accident on Mother’s Day in 2000.

The race raises money for a $1,000 scholarship presented annually in Laliberte’s name.

“This event really is a special one for me because I knew Scot, and he was a really, really awesome guy,” said Kelley Cullenberg, entering her 22nd season as Mt. Blue’s coach. “I just feel like it’s the least we can do to carry on his memory.”

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

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