Adam Hittner has been coaching cross country and track for nearly a decade and this season he landed with a dream team of runners at Hereford High.
Hittner joins John Roemer as co-head coach for the girls and boys cross country teams.
"We both work with everybody, which is a lot," said Hittner, who worked with smaller squads the past seven years at Pikesville High. "We have 125 kids out there."
Hereford gets its first taste of quality competition on Sept. 17 at the 34th annual Barnhart Invitational at Dulaney High.
The girls varsity race begins at 10 a.m. and 31 teams are expected to participate.
The boys varsity race follows at approximately 10:35 a.m.; 28 teams had committed through Sept. 9.
The girls race will feature the defending Barnhart team champion and Class 2A state champion Bulls.
Although Sarah Coffey, who won the race in 2014 and placed third last year, has graduated, the Bulls have plenty of distance firepower.
Hereford seniors expected to run at Dulaney are Kelly Wesolowski and Hannah Ace.
Ace finished 13th at the Barnhart last year.
Junior Kelly Shearer was fourth at Barnhart and fourth in the Class 2A state championship meet.
Although Coffey and Alicia Kozlowski (10th at the 2015 Barnhart) have graduated, juniors Lillian Behan, Nicole Burkoski and Hannah Weeren and sophomore Emily Konkus look to make an early impression.
They already showed off their ability at the Baltimore County Relays Sept. 3.
"We ran our five best guys and girls in the relay and they were far and away the best girls team there," Hittner said. "They are a great group of girls. They are pretty much the defending champs of everything they went to — they won Barnhart, they won counties, they won regionals and won states, so we know they are outstanding."
Konkus was 15th in the state meet last season as a freshman and Hittner sees even more young talent on the horizon.
"We've got other girls ready to step up," Hittner said. "Four out of our top 15 girls are 10th graders."
Hittner also likes the potential of the boys squad.
"No matter where we go, either side, boys or girls, Hereford is far from a pushover team," he said. "These kids are going to work hard and they are going to race hard because they've got a lot of ability and a lot of talent."
Junior Dillon Coffey, the younger brother of Sarah Coffey, is the top returning runner for the boys.
Coffey placed 12th last season at the Class 2A state meet for the squad that finished sixth as a team.
He's joined in the top five by seniors Ryan Pindale and Sam Turnbaugh, junior Dietrich Sweeney and sophomore Will Reider.
Hittner doesn't think they are far from being one of the elite teams in the area.
"I think they are right on the cusp," Hittner said. "Right now, Dulaney is outstanding on the boys side. They are excellent. I can't overstate how great that they are."
Dulaney is the defending Class 4A state cross country champions, but all five Lion runners who placed in the top 20 at the state meet graduated.
Hittner feels the Bulls could close the gap on Dulaney and the rest of the Baltimore County teams.
"I think our boys are going to be really good this year," he said. "I think they are going to be very competitive at most of our invitationals and I think they are going to be competitive at the county meet."
Both individual races at the Barnhart Invitational could be very competitive.
Hereford's Wesolowski and Shearer, Dulaney's Dorrie Gaeng and Jessica Meek and Towson's Sydney Conboy and Lauren Miller should be solid threats from Baltimore County and Archbishop Spalding freshman Lacy Eden may be near the front of the pack.
Last year's girls race was won by Paint Branch's Bethlehem Taye.
Taye is now running at North Carolina State University along with 2016 Dulaney High graduate Eric Walz.
Walz won the Barnhart Invitational and the Class 4A state cross country title last year.
Dulaney juniors Matt Owens and Brian McCullough are top contenders for the Barnhart boys individual title.
"That's going to be a strong one-two punch," Dulaney coach Chad Boyle said.
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