The end of the cross country regular season is fast-approaching and runners are preparing for one final week of training and tri-meets before the Howard County Championships on Oct. 22 at Centennial High School.
As the season has progressed, there have been many common themes among both top finishing teams and individuals.
One squad that has remained constant, realizing a high level of success for both its boys and girls teams throughout the entire season, has been Centennial.
After running his teams against the likes of the Eagles in multiple meets, first-year Atholton coach Ivan Alvarado said it could be difficult for any school to take them down.
"On the girls side, Centennial looks legitimate," Alvarado said. "They're powerful, they're strong and they're deep. They're on another level."
Eagles' junior Shreya Nalubola has led the pack in county and state competition thus far. Following her first-place finish in the Howard County Invitational on Sept. 7, Nalubola has finished third in the Spiked Shoe Invitational (Sept. 21), second in the Barnhart Memorial (Sept. 28), first in the Doc Jones Invitational (Oct. 5) and first in the Georgetown Prep Classic (Oct. 12).
Closely behind Nalubola is River Hill junior Allison Krein, who recorded second-place finishes in the William & Mary Invitational (Sept. 21) and the Frank Keyser Invitational (Sept. 28), as well as a third-place finish in the Georgetown Prep Classic.
"Allison Krein and Shreya Nalubola is such a healthy rivalry not just for Howard County, but for Maryland as well," Alvarado added. "Those two girls could definitely elevate the running scene in the state."
After Nalubola and Krein, there are a number of other female runners that could come out of the woodwork to compete for the county crown as well.
Last year's Class 2A state champion — and 2013 Scorpion Crawl winner — Brit Lang, who hasn't been full strength for the entire season, will be in the mix. Hammond's Julia Reed, a newcomer to the sport, should be right there as well.
"I think I've improved a lot this season, and I've definitely surprised myself," said Reed, who decided to make the jump from soccer to cross country for her senior year.
Her sixth place finish in the Howard County Invitational — her first-ever race — showed that the former goalie was going to be a force this season.
On Sept. 18, Reed set a new course record in a home tri-meet, officially putting herself in the conversation with the top runners in the county.
"I'm hoping to keep up with runners from Centennial, Reservoir, and the other top teams," she said. "And since the race is back at Centennial, I definitely want to beat my time."
Other girls runners to keep a close eye on include Centennial sophomores Ally Driscoll and Devin McIntyre, Reservoir senior Karli Smiraglia, Glenelg sisters Julia, a junior, and Cara Nardone, a freshman, and Marriotts Ridge sophomore Abigail Starks.
Alvarado referred to Howard County as arguably the best for running in the state, and that rings true not just for the girls, but for the boys teams as well.
"On the boys side, you have five to seven teams competing for a shot at the regionals, trying to make it to states," he said, adding that Centennial, River Hill, Reservoir, Atholton and Mt. Hebron all look to be top contending groups heading into next week's race.
Vikings' senior Ben Weinstein was the county's top finisher at the Howard County Invitational last month, placing second overall.
Weinstein went on to place 12th at Spiked Shoe, ninth at Barnhart, first at the Gunpowder Falls Invitational on Oct. 5, and seventh in the Georgetown Prep Classic.
River Hill junior Chris Heydrick, Centennial seniors Alec Font and Hutson Baumann, Reservoir senior Owen Pochettino, Oakland Mills senior Conner Holley and Wilde Lake junior David Eisenhauer all look to be in contention as top runners for their teams as well.
After placing fifth at the Howard County Invitational, Heydrick has since finished fifth at William & Mary and Gunpowder Falls.
Font and Baumann placed third and 19th respectively at Spiked Shoe, and sixth and 12th at Barnhart. Then, in the Doc Jones race, Baumann placed third, while Font finished sixth. Baumann placed 12th in the Georgetown Prep race, while Font was 18th.
Such a high level of talent from both the boys and girls teams will give every school a shot at a county title.
While coaches will say some teams have a better chance than others, it will be anyone's race. Alvarado and Reed, both tenderfoots to the cross country scene in the county, are excited to see how their schools will stack up.
Said Alvarado: "Howard County as a whole has been incredible to say the least."