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Out-of-staters return to defend XC crowns at Manchester Invitational

Scholastic runners from around the Northeast will gather at Derryfield Park in Manchester Saturday to compete at the 38th annual Manchester Invitational cross-country meet.

The Invitational, one of only a handful of meets its size in the region, serves as a barometer for the runners and teams to watch in the division and state championship meets, and provides an early indication of the early favorites for the New England Championships in early November.

The Invitational also draws high school teams from eastern New York state.

Five different races in both boys' and girls' divisions allow harriers of all high school levels to test their mettle over the Derryfield hills.

&#';The 5K (3.1-mile) course is fairly dry and in good condition,&#'; said Coby Jacobus, coach of the Manchester CentraHigh boys' team and the meet's director. &#';That allows coaches to compare times from the various races pretty accurately and gives them a good picture of where the teams stand in the state.

&#';No one is running at their peak yet, but the coaches need their athletes to be excited in the early season,&#'; Jacobus added. &#';The Invitational provides that opportunity.&#';

Last year's elite race team champions, Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake, N.Y., and Bishop Hendricken of Warwick, R.I., will return to Manchester to defend their girls' and boys' crowns, respectively, with the girls' elite race having the potential to be the highlight of the meet.

Pushing Burnt Hills will be several New Hampshire teams, led by Coe-Brown Northwood Academy and Manchester Central.

Coe-Brown won the small-school race last fall and went on to win the NHIAA Division II championship. The Bears also totaled the lowest team score at the state Meet of Champions before finishing third overall (first among New Hampshire teams) at the New England Championships.

CBNA is led by sophomores Hannah Parker and Katie Scannell, and juniors Jessie Carney and Lexie Buiel.

Central, meanwhile, is paced by the return of Elizabeth Conway, the reigning Division I champion and the 2011 New Hampshire Union Leader girls' Runner of the Year, along with Laurel Gagnon and Emily Harris.

Vermont rivals Champlain Valley and Essex Junction, who finished second and third in the elite run last September, also are in Saturday's field. Perennial power Bishop Guertin of Nashua, however, will not run.

Other New Hampshire girls' teams that will be comparing their scores include Londonderry, Bedford, Timberlane of Plaistow, Hanover, Souhegan of Amherst, Hollis/Brookline and Hopkinton.

Add MOC champion Courtney Hawkins of Milford, Mia Eisenhandler of Nashua South, Hannah Kimball of Timberlane, Shannon Murdock of Exeter, Meghan Philpot and Emma Newton of Hollis/Brookline, Sami Hicks of Laconia and Briggie Carr of North Sutton's Kearsarge Regional to the list of New Hampshire's top individuals.

Winnacunnet of Hampton headlines the Granite State's boys' teams expected to challenge Hendricken in the elite race. Souhegan, winner of the Saber Relays, also heads to the meet as a front runner.

Another New Hampshire boys' team to watch over the course of the day is Bow, which is led by Division III champion Andrew Weckstein. Bow and Weckstein each won at the Gilford Early Bird Invitational earlier this month.

Oyster River of Durham and its top runner, Cameron Barth, are coming off recent wins at the Bobcat Invitational, while the Bedford boys already have a victory in the Nashua Invitational on their 2012 resume. Hanover, Pinkerton Academy of Derry, Nashua North, Londonderry and Hopkinton all traditionally field strong programs.

Expect to see Justin Trott and Seamus Cullinane of Winnacunnet, Dan Damato of Keene, Chris Poggi of Pinkerton, Noah Williams of Hanover, Jason Bender of Souhegan, Jeremy Brassard of Coe-Brown, Aaron Bellomo of Hudson's Alvirne High, Sam Daly of Bedford and B.J. Smith of Concord among the top New Hampshire runners.

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