The tag line on River Hill coach Earl Lauer's email sums up the essence of cross country. "Individuals win races, teams win championships," it says.
Looking at the individuals first, Atholton's Gary Smolyak, who won the county title a year ago, is back as is Wilde Lake's Tim Virostek, who was named Runner of the Year last fall. Howard's Danny Rau is positioned to challenge both.
On the girls' side, expect Glenelg sophomore Julia Nardone, all-county first team as a freshman, and Mt. Hebron senior Rachel Yep to have many exciting races this year. River Hill's Angelica Yi will be up near the front, too.
Glenelg Country's Hannah Mansbach is one of the top runners in the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland.
River Hill and Reservoir are considered to be the top boys' teams in the county. On the girls' side, it's River Hill, Reservoir, Mt. Hebron and Centennial.
Howard County's public schools go head-to-head for the first time this season at the Howard County Invitational, which will be held Friday, Sept. 7 at Centennial High School. The first race goes off at 3:30 p.m.
Take your mark!
As the season begins, here's how the teams look and what invitationals they will be running in addition to the Howard County Invitational.
Boys to watch: Senior Gary Smolyak; juniors Eddie Quinn, Justin Spoon and Scott Zimmerman; sophomore Timmy Bernard.
Girls to watch: Seniors Katie Pelikan, Jessica Duggan and Katie Smith; juniors Jill Greenwald and Madison Rogers; sophomores Casey Flynn and Tasha Powers.
The scoop: If there's strength in numbers, then Atholton has it with 110 runners, including 36 girls.
"They are a very cohesive group," said coach Beth DeFrances of her boys' squad. "They are working well together and really encouraging the younger runners."
Smolyak, who won the individual title at the county championship, is back to defend his crown.
How the team stacks up will depend on closing the gap between its top runners.
DeFrances is expecting a better season than a year ago when Atholton finished eighth in the county.
The Raiders girls team also has higher expectations.
"Our underclassmen did most of our scoring last year so we are hoping that, as long as we stay healthy, we can place very high in our meets," said girls coach Wendell Thomas. "We have strength in our numbers with a lot of girls working very hard to break into the varsity spots."
Invitationals: Track N Trail (Elkton), Doc Jones (Annapolis), Bull Run (Hereford) and Scorpion Crawl (Oakland Mills).