ST. ALBANS — Montgomery’s Elle Purrier made the most of an historic homecoming party Saturday morning, cruising to her third America East cross country championship in her first race at Hard’ack Recreation Area.

Running at the St. Albans site for the first time in five years, the 21-time track and cross country state champion at Richford H.S. added another honor to one of the nation’s top collegiate careers with a runaway on the groomed trails through Hard’ack’s woods and its open fields below.

Fresh off a stunning win at the NCAA Pre-Nationals over the defending national champion two weeks earlier, the University of New Hampshire senior ran by herself from the start and won the league title by more than 47 seconds over teammate Shannon Murdoch.

The two led the Wildcats to their fifth consecutive league crown, a string that began with Purrier’s arrival in the fall of 2013.

The University of Vermont was host for the conference meet and elected to run it at Hard’ack, bringing Franklin County its first NCAA event.

The crowd was drastically limited by an unfortunate scheduling conflict. The America East Championships took place on the one day when no high school runners could attend, with the Vermont high school state meet taking place 2 1/2 hours away in Thetford at the same time.

But there were dozens of Franklin County residents on hand and a crowd of Purrier’s family and friends on hand among hundreds of spectators from throughout the northeast to watch her add another major title to a long list.

“It’s really special to be here,” Purrier said after leaving the field far behind to win her second straight conference title and third in four years. “It’s like a flashback to high school.”

Purrier rocketed away from the 83 other runners in the women’s 5K race, sprinting to a 39-second lead in the first mile and adding another eight seconds to that margin over the remaining two miles.

“I raced here so much in high school, I knew the course,” she said. “It’s just really thrilling to see everybody come out, and a lot of the same faces that were here back when it all started. I couldn’t feel more thankful for all the support.”

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