The Murray Keatinge Cross Country Invitational, which has been a staple at the University of Maine for nearly two decades, will not be run this year, Black Bears head coach Mark Lech said.
Lech said low interest is the main reason he had to cancel the meet, scheduled for Oct. 2, but his Black Bears will not lose a home meet that Saturday as they’ll host Holy Cross.
Teams such as Central Connecticut and Boston College had interest in coming, but Boston College is hosting the Atlantic Coast Conference meet later this fall and Central Connecticut’s athletic director informed the school’s new coach that he didn’t want them making long trips for budgetary reasons.
The Navy women were also interested in running, Lech said.
“Part of the problem with them was they couldn’t find any flights to get here,” he said.
Lech said he is very hopeful that the invitational will be run again next fall, but after talking with other coaches at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field championships, he may bump it up from the traditional first Saturday of October.
“(Other coaches) thought maybe the weekend before would be a good weekend to do it, so I think as we go along here, probably the end of November or so, I’ll take a poll and see if anybody would be interested in coming that weekend instead.”
The meet has attracted teams such as Stanford, Arizona, Michigan and Duke in the past, along with several Northeast powers such as Dartmouth and Boston College and teams from Canada.
A lot of former Maine running stars, such as Louie Luchini (Stanford) and Ben True (Dartmouth) have also excelled at this meet in the past.
But this time of year, a lot of teams from the Northeast are looking to attend bigger invitationals outside the region in an attempt to earn NCAA at-large bids.
“The first two teams in each region make it automatically, then there are at-large bids so, say, if we were third or fourth in our region, but we beat one of the first or second teams in another region, we’d have a chance to go to the NCAA’s depending upon how those teams did against other teams,” Lech explained, adding he’s unsure why New Hampshire elected not to come this fall.
Another factor was the appeal of Murray Keatinge, who owned the Norumbega hotel in Camden and knew cross country coaches from the Midwest. He attracted teams such as Michigan and, once he died in 2000, those teams stopped coming.
“He was kind of the glue that held the thing together,” Lech said. “Once he died, boom, that was it, (Michigan) was gone.”
From a racing perspective, Lech is happy his UMaine teams will have a chance to compete on that weekend, although some of his top runners may get some rest.
“Riley (Masters) will probably have a weekend off that weekend but I’m not sure what I’m going to do with Corey (Conner),” he said.
The Boston College women won the last two Keatinge races, while St. Francis Xavier from Canada won the men’s title last year.
The UMaine teams return to action this weekend at Massachusetts while the Black Bears will host UNH the following Friday.