If there is a common thread that runs through the county's high school cross country teams this fall it is youth and inexperience.
Glenelg graduated Robby Creese, a two-time cross country Runner of the Year, and Glenelg Counry School graduated Kikanae Punyua, who is running for the University of Maryland. Other schools took equal graduation hits, which leaves Oakland Mills junior Sam Andrews as the county's top boy right now.
On the girls' side River Hill's LeAnne Young, last year's girls cross country Runner of the Year, is back, but she can expect challenges from Oakland Mills' Tiffany Lang and Mt. Hebron's Rachel Yep, among others.
The team picture is less clear cut. When asked about county's top team this fall, the coaches mentioned the boys teams from Mt. Hebron, Wilde Lake, Atholton, Oakland Mills, Glenelg, River Hill and Reservoir and girls teams from River Hill, Mt. Hebron, Oakland Mills, Glenelg and Reservoir.
In other words, it's just about anybody's race.
The first indication of how things might sort out, individually and teamwise, will come at the Howard County Invitational, Friday, Sept. 9 at Centennial High School. All of the county's public schools participate. 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 participating in besides the Howard County Invitational:
Boys to watch: Seniors Kyle Deutschmann and Matt Heron; junior Gary Smolyak and sophomore Eddie Quinn.
Girls to watch: Junior Marisha Skibniewska; sophomores Jill Greenwald, Alicia Bazelle, Rosemary Davidson; freshman Anjali Mahadevia.
What you need to know: Atholton graduated nine of its top 10 boys from last year, which makes Smolyak the top returner, but the 75 Raiders on the team are undaunted by their inexperience. "Our strength is our determination," said coach Beth DeFrances. "Being that we graduated so many, the team feels that it has something to prove — that they can be a quality varsity squad."
The Raiders' girls were one point short of making last year's state meet, but did send one individual (Amy Nellis). The plan in 2011 is to be at Hereford, where the state meet is held, as a team. "The girls are very motivated and have been working very hard all three seasons and should accomplish their goals of finishing once again in the top half of the county and making states as a team," said coach Wendell Thomas. Freshman Elizabeth Towner could easily break into the top runners on the team, as could sophomore Hannah Lefors.
Invitationals: Bull Run, Knights (Liberty), Doc Jones and Georgetown Prep.
Boys to watch: Seniors Harry Colby, Pranay Patel and Ian Harrison; junior Jeff Sham; sophomores Andrew Durkee and Alec Font.
Girls to watch: Senior Rachel Dvornicky; junior Grace Paterson and sophomores Kari Dunagan, Jenna Harrity and Alyssa Taylor.
What you need to know: Young and inexperienced describes both Centennial teams. Over half the 77 boys on the squad are first-year runners, and of 36 girls, thee are just five seniors and two juniors. The boys will concentrate on running in a tighter pack than previous years. "Our numbers 1-5 should be a lot closer with respect to times," said boys coach Al Dodds. "That's going to be the focus this season."
If the Eagles' boys can stay close to each other a top-half finish in the county is not impossible.
The pack mentality will be the focus of the girls' team as well. "These girls can only improve. We will need to work as a team and not allow any major time gaps from 1-7," said coach Kevin McCoy.