Howard County Times sports editor Brent Kennedy takes on Centennial senior cross country runner Hutson Baumann to see who can race up and down the most hills. Baumann also teaches some of his tricks. (Kelsey Hughes/Baltimore Sun video)

Oakland Mills coach Phil Lang and his wife, Vicki, are entering their 19th season at the helm of the Scorpions’ cross country program. Yet, after nearly two decades of coaching, Phil Lang still gets just as excited about the sport as he did when he was competing as a high school athlete.

This year, he expects the talented girls teams to be the most exciting storyline.

“The girls side in our county is just loaded,” he said. “If I narrowed it down to one thing to watch, it’s the individual girls race.”

Lang has plenty to look forward to when it comes to his Scorpions girls squad. His daughter who runs on the team, sophomore Brit Lang, is last year’s Columbia Flier/Howard County Times Girls Runner of the Year. 

Her second place finish at the county championship set her up for wins at the Class 2A south regional and 2A state championship meets.

Though it’s easy for Phil to tout his daughter’s accomplishments, one year can make a big difference, and the longtime coach is not sleeping on other potential breakout runners throughout the county.

A host of first-team all-county selections return to competition this season. Last year’s county champion, Centennial’s Shreya Nalubola, is back for her junior season, as is Eagles’ sophomore Ally Driscoll. 

Reservoir senior Karli Smiraglia and River Hill junior Allison Krein round out the 2012 first-team all-county girls that are returning as runners to watch in the county for this year.

Add 2012 second-team all-county selections Anna Latzko (River Hill, sophomore), Devin McIntyre (Centennial, sophomore), Julia Nardone (Glenelg, junior) and Abigail Starks (Marriotts Ridge, sophomore) as athletes vying for top spots this season as well, and it’s easy to see why coaches like Lang can’t just pick one runner to be a clear-cut favorite. 

“The young Centennial girls should lead the pack,” said River Hill coach Earl Lauer, who was selected by the National Federation of State High School Associations Coaches Association as the 2012 National Coach of the Year for boys cross country. 

Centennial coach Kevin McCoy sees things a little differently.

“The top team has to be Reservoir,” he said. “They are the defending county, region and state champs.”

Mt. Hebron coach Paul Ulrich looks for both schools, plus River Hill, to be competitive. He calls the trio Howard County’s “cream of the crop.”

Unlike the girls squads throughout the county, the boys cross country picture is a bit more muddled.

“On the boys side, a lot of the top guys graduated,” said Lang. “It’s a bit of an unknown as to who is going to move into those top spots.”

Runners like Howard’s Danny Rau (2012 Boys Runner of the Year), Centennial’s Adam Sachs, Atholton’s Gary Smolyak and Wilde Lake’s Tim Virostek all graduated. In their place is a void that many will look to fill. 

Enter Centennial senior Alec Font and River Hill junior Chris Heydrick, both first-team all-county selections last year. These two will look to compete for top honors in the county this fall.

In 2012, Font finished third in the county championship meet, sixth at the 3A east regional meet, and eighth in the 3A state meet.

As a sophomore, Heydrick finished fourth at the county championship, fifth at the 3A regional and 14th at states.

Returning second-team all-county selections from 2012 who will look to challenge Font and Heydrick include Reservoir senior Owen Pochettino, Centennial seniors Hutson Baumann and Griffin Riddler, Atholton senior Eddy Quinn, Mt. Hebron senior Ben Weinstein and Mt. Hebron sophomore Corey Hamilton.