The 13th Annual Festival of Champions is the biggest race of the Maine high school cross country season for a number of reasons.

The event, which is co-hosted by Belfast and Brewer high schools, will draw over 1,500 runners and 77 teams to Troy Howard Middle School in Bath on Saturday. The boys and girls fields are divided into three divisions to keep the course from getting too crowded, but the thundering herd when the feature race begins is still an impressive sight and sound.

It is also the biggest one-class meet in the state, pitting the top runners from classes A, B and C against each other on a challenging 5-kilometer course. Small-school runners relish a chance to prove themselves against the bigger schools. Sometimes, they outshine the big schools. Class B Mt. Desert Island has won the girls team title three years in a row. Last year, Josef Holt-Andrews from Class C Telstar dominated the boys race, establishing a new meet and course record (15:06.92).

The meet is divided into three sections of boys and girls races, with runners seeded into each section based on their predicted 5K time. Racing begins with the unseeded races at 11 a.m., followed by the freshmen races at 12:30 p.m., then the seeded races at 2 p.m. The five fastest runners from each team will figure in the team scoring, regardless of which race they run in (sixth and seventh-fastest runners count in the event of displacement).

Mt. Blue’s Aaron Willingham and Cony’s Anne Guadalupi are the top seeds for the boys and girls races.

Willingham, a senior, finished second to Holt-Andrews at last year’s race, a little over 35 seconds off the record pace. Since being edged by Lewiston’s Isaiah Harris at the preseason Laliberte Invitation at Cony High School, Willingham hasn’t been beaten in the KVAC.

Dan Lesko, also of Mt. Blue, is seeded second. Waterville’s Chris Cote is seeded eighth.

Guadalupi, a sophomore, has not lost in four KVAC races this season. She finished eighth at last year’s Festival of Champions.

Anne McKee of Kents Hill, who won the Laliberte on Guadalupi’s home course in the preseason, is seeded second. Defending champion Kialeigh Marston of Bonny Eagle is seeded eighth.

The Festival of Champions regularly draws schools from outside of Maine, and this year, teams from Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, Canada as well as Vermont and Rhode Island have entered. That includes Cumberland High School of Cumberland, R.I., which won the boys team title in 2012 and is one of the favorites to win this year.

Lewiston will try to defend its boys title led by Harris and Osman Doorow. Scarborough and Falmouth should also contend.

The MDI girls will be vying for an unprecedented fourth consecutive title. Cumberland, R.I. and Westbrook should be among the top challengers.

Local schools expected to compete include: Cony, Gardiner, Hall-Dale, Kents Hill, Lawrence, Madison, Maine Central Institute, Maranacook, Messalonskee, Monmouth, Mt. Blue, Nokomis, Skowhegan, Waterville, Winslow and Winthrop.

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

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Twitter: @RAWmaterial33