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Howard County cross country reloading after graduating talented class

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.

“Howard County cross country is probably one of the strongest counties for runners in the state,” said Mt. Hebron boys coach Todd Decrispino.

River Hill, Centennial and Reservoir should be expected to make a big splash. Many coaches aren’t counting out teams like Mt. Hebron or Marriotts Ridge, either.

A wealth of knowledge from the many seasoned coaches can be crucial to solidifying a successful program in such a fierce county.

Then, there are some new coaches like Atholton’s Ivan Alvarado, who bring a “good competitive spirit” to the Howard County cross country scene, according to Lang.

Here’s a closer glance at each individual county team:

* First-team all-county, # Second-team all-county

Atholton

Boys to watch: Senior Eddie Quinn#; juniors Bryce Rosicky and Tim Bernard.

Girls to watch: Seniors Tasha Powers and Jill Greenwald; sophomores Camille Yamamoto and Kalie-Ann Shepherd.

Coaches: Wendell Thomas (Boys); Ivan Alvarado (Girls)

The scoop: “Our strength is in numbers, desire and work ethic,” said Thomas, who made the coaching jump from the girls team to the boys this season.

Though the Raiders’ coaches held off on choosing captains early in the season, Quinn looks to be one of the leading runners this fall. In 2012, he finished 20th in states, eighth in the 3A East regional and 15th in the county, setting the senior up for what could be a special final season.

On the girls side, first-year coach Ivan Alvarado said he is looking for “strong contributions and leadership skills” from the team’s top seniors. Returning athletes like Powers and Greenwald “have the potential of being a strong 1-2 combination,” according to Alvarado.

Both coaches agree that staying out of the trainer’s room is the top priority.

“If we are able to stay healthy and focused, the workouts from coach Alvarado will hopefully propel us to the Atholton tradition of competing for a title,” said Thomas.

Notable meets: Spiked Shoe Invitational (Sept. 21) and Doc Jones (Oct. 5).

Centennial

Boys to watch: Seniors Alec Font*, Hutson Baumann#, Griffin Riddler#, Andrew Durkee and Luke Mitchell.

Girls to watch: Senior Alyssa Taylor; junior Shreya Nalubola*; sophomores Ally Driscoll and Devin McIntyre#.

Coaches: Al Dodds (Boys); Kevin McCoy (Girls)

The scoop: Font returns as one of the favorites to win a county title. After top-ten finishes in the county, regional and state meets, the senior will look to be Centennial’s top runner in the school’s quest to repeat as county champions.

After Font, Dodds said his team will look to reload from losing key seniors from last year.

“If we can fill a couple of spots vacated by our graduates and run as a pack then we should be quite successful again,” he said. 

The Eagles return 22 runners to the girls squad, giving coach McCoy confidence in his team’s abundance of experience.

“All of the girls did an amazing job last year and the team improved a great deal,” McCoy said. “This year we just need to continue that improvement and keep progressing the team forward.”

Notable meets: Barnhardt Memorial Invitational (Sept. 28), Doc Jones. 

Glenelg

Boys to watch: Seniors Grant Schultheis, Christian Lehman and Sural Ranamukhaarachchi; juniors Garrett Birsa and Rider Jordan; sophomores Toby Dilworth and Shawn Thompson.

Girls to watch: Seniors Erin Swanhart, Sam Biegel and Julianna Boswell; junior Julia Nardone#; freshman Cara Nardone.

Coaches: Roger Volrath (Boys); Steve Ruckert (Girls)

The scoop: With only three boys varsity runners returning, coach Volrath expects the younger runners to step in and contribute.

For the girls, it’s just the opposite. With seven of the top 10 runners returning, coach Ruckert is eager to see how summer training has improved his squad.

When it comes to Glenelg, both coaches agree that the girls and boys teams could throw a wrench into the county mix. Do the Gladiators possess the experience to be a dark horse?

The sleeper team “could be us,” said Ruckert. 

Notable meets: Prince George’s Invitational (Sept. 28), Gunpowder Falls Invitational (Oct. 5), Southern Bulldog Invitational (Oct. 12).

Hammond

Boys to watch: Sophomores Jonathan Gorel and Nate Palmer.

Girls to watch: Senior Julia Reed; sophomore Nebiyu Samuel.

Coaches: Jim Gross (Boys); Kim Williams (Girls)

The scoop: With just 24 runners on the squad, Hammond coaches believe this year’s boys and girls teams possess a tremendous amount of potential. Coach Williams said she wants to use the Howard County Invitational as a strong measuring stick for the team’s prospects this season, as many of the team’s athletes are new to the sport.

Reed leads the girls as one of the Golden Bears’ top runners. A former soccer player, her dedication to the sport is top notch, according to coach Gross.

“She just picked it up,” he said. “I tried to get her to run for two years.”

Expect Hammond to have high energy in every meet, forcing stiff competition from the bigger teams across the county.

Notable meets: Spiked Shoe, Crossfire Invite (Oct. 1). 

Howard

Boys to watch: Senior Luke Filar; junior Ray Smith.

Girls to watch: Seniors Melissa Froh, Melissa Pratt and Rachel Jaksec; junior Gabby Rayner.

Coaches: Nathan Ferrell (Boys); Matthew Stump (Girls)

The scoop: “Can the younger and less experienced runners get the training in now to prepare them for the end of the season?” 

That’s the biggest question heading into this season for Howard, according to coach Ferrell.

“A lot of our guys do not have much experience in distance running, so their improvements are drastic,” he said.

For the girls, a 37-person squad means a strong sense of team.

“This is a positive for us,” said coach Stump. “Each runner works to make the other runners faster and more successful.”

Notable meets: Barnhardt Memorial, Doc Jones, Southern Bulldog.

Long Reach

Boys to watch: Seniors Jeremy Leierzapf and Thomas Lim; freshman Eric Haney.

Girls to watch: Juniors Jess Hsu and Emily Park.

Coaches: Brian Murphy (Boys); Jessica Murphy (Girls)

The scoop: With 12 returning runners for the boys, and six for the girls, experience will be a factor for the Lightning all season long.

“For the boys, we lost a lot of our experienced runners who led the varsity squad,” said coach Jessica Murphy. “For the ladies, we are continuing to build the team, growing each year.”

The team’s unity will be one of its strongest qualities heading into the fall, according to the coaches. A successful year is important to growing the team for the future.

Notable meets: N/A 

Marriotts Ridge

Boys to watch: Seniors Silas Buck, Michael Bernal, Clay Cochran and Aedan Hale.

Girls to watch: Junior Bailey Merrill; sophomore Abigail Starks#; freshman Chloe Virden.

Coaches: Richard Malt (Boys); Jason Conley (Girls)

The scoop: “I was pleasantly surprised by some of our younger runners during our opening time trial,” said coach Malt of his boys team. Runners like sophomore Matt Ault and junior Jason Kohler are expected to capitalize on their steady improvements over the summer.

For the girls, the inevitable turnover from successful upperclassmen to unproven youngsters is an issue that Marriotts Ridge cannot hide from. Still, coach Conley is not worried.

“We graduated a few last year, but most of our upper level returned,” he said. “The newcomers are doing really well. We have a couple of seniors breaking in, but most of the underclassmen are our top runners.”

With the potential of building a great program over the next two years at an all-time high, Conley still isn’t giving up on this season, especially if the injury bug doesn’t bite.

Notable meets: Barnhardt Memorial, Scorpion Crawl Invite (Oct. 8). 

Mt. Hebron

Boys to watch: Seniors Ben Weinstein#, Ryan Huyett and Sam Edmondson; sophomores Corey Hamilton# and Jake Drohat.

Girls to watch: Seniors River Williams and Naomi Mburu; junior Eileen Zohorsky.

Coaches: Todd Decrispino (Boys); Paul Ulrich (Girls)

The scoop: Injuries will be the biggest determinant for coach Decrispino’s boys team this season, and, like most teams, the young runners could be a difference maker.

“We have two freshmen runners who should do very well this year: Jimmy Hayden and Jacob Edmondson,” Decrispino said.

Both the boys and girls coaches believe experience won’t be a factor, but for different reasons. With the boys, the younger runners will aid an already strong senior class. It’s just the opposite for the girls.

With only five returning runners, and 15 freshmen on a team of 25, coach Ulrich said he could go either way when it comes to his team's success this season.

We “can be really good and catch everyone by surprise, maybe like Centennial last year,” he said. “I don’t have a good sense yet as to which way they will go. They have good times in intervals and workouts, but have not raced yet.

Notable meets: Barnhardt Memorial, Scorpion Crawl, Southern Bulldog.

Oakland Mills

Boys to watch: Seniors Connor Holley, Thomas Brumbaugh# and Isaac Kirk-Davidoff.

Girls to watch: Seniors Mackenzie Snyder and Mary Hommel; sophomore Brit Lang*.

Coaches: Phil Lang (Boys); Vicki Lang (Girls)

The scoop: “The boys varsity team will mainly be returning runners and most of them are seniors,” coach Phil Lang said. “Experience will be a strength for that group.” 

According to Lang, finishing the season strong is, and has always been, the main focus for his squad. The longtime coach even went as far as to say that the Howard County Invitational isn’t nearly as important as later meets — a sentiment he said is shared by many of his coaching counterparts. 

Sophomore Brit Lang is the story for the Scorpions’ girls squad this season once again. The coaches’ daughter’s stellar freshman season may be difficult to repeat, but her success doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon.

Notable meets: Barnhardt Memorial, Scorpion Crawl.

Reservoir

Boys to watch: Senior Owen Pochettino; juniors Brian Fieni and Tony Grabow.

Girls to watch: Senior Karli Smiraglia*; junior Kelsey Ponton.

Coach: Phil Rodgers (Boys); Jud Lincoln (Girls)

The scoop: Coach Rodgers is excited to see what Pochettino can bring to the course this season.

“He has been very focused over the last summer and has been an excellent leader for his peers,” he said. “He has encouraged them to train all summer and kept the boys working together.

“He led the team on and off the course."

Karli Smiraglia returns for her second season of running cross country, and with one successful year under her belt, Rodgers said she could only get better.

Overall, Reservoir enters this fall as one of the favorites to win on the girls and boys side.

“Both teams have one of two runners that will lead the team and be in the mix to win any meet as an individual,” Rodgers said. “The biggest determent to our success will be our back. Both teams have a tight pack as of now, but we have to move up and improve steadily as a unit.”

Notable meets: Barnhardt Memorial, Southern Bulldog.

River Hill

Boys to watch: Seniors Marshall Demaree, Terry Tossman and Eliot Fenton; juniors Chris Heydrick* and Mark Moody.

Girls to watch: Seniors Becca Anderson and Lilly Messer; juniors Alison Krein* and Stacey Young; sophomore Anna Latzko#.

Coaches: Paul Hugus (Boys); Earl Lauer (Girls)

The scoop: The Hawks boys team only lost two seniors from their top 10 runners, so coach Hugus said he is confident in the experience factor.

If the team emulates its coach’s confidence, Hugus said River Hill can compete with the best of them.

“I think that the runners have done a really nice job of preparing themselves over the summer and are ready to work together for a common goal this season,” he said.

A “desire to improve” is what will motivate the River Hill girls team this season, according to veteran coach Lauer.

“Last year was the first year in the last eight that the team did not finish in the top three at the state championships,” he said. With all-county selections Krein and Latzko returning, the Hawks have a strong chance of getting back to those winning ways.

Notable meets: William & Mary Invitational (Sept. 21), Keyser Invitational (Sept. 28), Gunpowder, Scorpion Crawl, Georgetown Prep Invitational.

Wilde Lake

Boys to watch: Juniors Eric Smart, Joseph Keating and Jared Golian; sophomores Hunter Kahn, Logan Bruce and Andrew De La Cruz; freshman Nathan Gears.

Girls to watch: Senior Kate McHale; juniors Mary Olson and Julia Orloff.

Coaches: Whitty Bass (Boys); Chris Brewington (Girls)

The scoop: The post-Tim Virostek era has begun for Wilde Lake, as the 2012 first-team all-county runner graduated, leaving big shoes to fill. For the boys, 20 runners will hit the course this season. The team will field nine freshmen.

“Consequently, we have to be patient and bring the young kids along,” coach Whitty Bass said. Developing the top seven runners will be the top priority for the Wildecats.

Orloff returns as coach Brewington’s top runner in 2013. The leadership from the captains will be crucial to the team’s success.

“They are hardworking girls,” Brewington said of his top athletes. “They are experienced runners with great leadership qualities.”

Notable meets: Spiked Shoe, Southern Bulldog. 

Glenelg Country School

Boys to watch: Seniors Joey Pickens (2012 MIAA B Conference Champion), Ben Murphy, Justin Swaim, Drew Davis and Kyle Miller.

Girls to watch: Sophomores Maddie Miller (2012 IAAM All-Conference) and Elena Moncada.

Coach: Scott Doughty

The scoop: Pickens looks to 2013 as the year he has a chance to break into the conversation with the top runners in the area. If last season is any indication of how he will fair this fall, expect to be seeing alot of this senior’s name.

“With an excellent mix of young and experience, the boys look to be competitive in the MIAA B conference,” said coach Doughty. 

For the girls, Miller returns for her second season after an impressive 2012 performance. Miller will be asked to step up as the main leader of a young Dragons team.

“The team of fine student-athletes will look to sophomore Elena Moncada, and newcomers Rachel Steeley and Kate Miller as they push to improve each week,” Doughty said.

Notable meets: Howard County Invitational, Georgetown Prep.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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