Westminster High had two of the top cross country teams in the state last year, and if returning talent is any indication, the Owls could be near the top again this November at the Class 4A championships.

The boys figure to breeze through the county and Central Maryland Conference schedules and are expected to be the team to beat in the Class 4A Region I championships. The girls appear strongest in the county but will have to battle Frederick for CMC and, possibly, state honors.

Francis Scott Key, meanwhile, should do something it hasn't been able to do since at least the early 1980s -- field a full boys and girls team.

Western Maryland, too, will field full men's and women's teams this year and will play host to the Middle Atlantic Conference Championships in November at the Carroll County Farm Museum.

Francis Scott Key

Eagles Coach Jim Bullock has 12 boys -- likely the biggest turnout since the late 1970s -- and six girls -- the first time Key has had enough to field a full girls team since at least the early 1980s.

"We can compete as a team if we stay healthy, and we can score some points," Bullock said.

Anchoring the girls are two runners who competed in the state tournament last year, though running only as individuals. Cindy Bollinger was 17th in the state as a sophomore and teammate Sarah Ensor was 23rd as a freshman.

Even with a full team, the Eagles might struggle to make the state tournament since Western Maryland is the strongest area of the state for Class 1A cross country. Still, the Eagles may have a shot to qualify as a team for the states.

For the boys, four of the top five runners return from a team that finished third in the state last year, and it's not unreasonable to think that Key could challenge for a state crown this year. It helps that the leading runner for state champ Brunswick -- Russ Adams -- has graduated, but Key also must replace its top runner from last year -- Greg Bockelman, who finished sixth.

But a strong nucleus is back, including sophomore Jason Wilhide (15th in the state meet), Chris Meloche (19th and Dave Cox (20th).

"Basically, with the three top guys from last year and four of this year's top newcomers, we have a strong nucleus," Bullock said. "I think all of the guys can run within a half-minute of each other."

Liberty Lions

The Liberty girls, a contender for the state Class 3A title a year ago, will have to overcome the loss of some promising young runners if they hope to compete for county, CMC, region and state honors this year.

Candi Campbell, the team's No. 2 runner in the state meet last year, moved to Georgia with her family, while top junior varsity runners Melissa Arnold (moved to Virginia) and Tamara Mitchell (switched to field hockey because of shin splints) also have not returned. Junior Jen Lowe also is questionable heading into the season because of a leg injury.

Still, if Lowe returns, coach Brad Hill will have six of his top seven runners from last year's team, which dueled with Westminster and Frederick for various league honors. And, he's excited about a pair of freshmen.

"Both of them just look super," Hill said of the first-year team members. "Most of the girls are just looking super. The key is, since we don't have the depth, we're going to have to stay healthy."

Expectations won't be as high for the boys, who didn't qualify for the state's last year and whose top runner in 1989, John Vogelpohl, has graduated.

"It depends on if we stay healthy," Hill said of the boys chances. "There's not a whole lot of experience."

North Carroll Panthers

Neither North Carroll team has the experience to return to the glory days of the mid-1980s, when the Panthers were among the top Class 3A boys and girls teams in the state.

But, several individuals could make their presence known, and the boys may have enough experience to challenge for third in the county.

Matt Davis is the only boy returning with state meet experience, but new coach Mike Bowen is counting on solid pack running to pluck off some unsuspecting opponents.

"These boys are going to be in the pack," Bowen said. "They're looking pretty decent."

The girls, with just seven runners on the squad, may have trouble with county foes but could pick off a CMC team or two. Tedra Whiting could be one of the better girls in the county, but her supporting cast has little varsity experience.

South Carroll Cavaliers

The Cavaliers figure to be second to Westminster in the county boys race, and could finish there in the CMC as well. But the Cavs do have a few holes to fill in their lineup, including three of last year's top seven runners.

Returnees include senior Dave Hammel, 15th in the state meet last year, and junior Jim Clarius, 28th. In early-season workouts, Clarius is running ahead of Hammel.

"We were second in the county and CMC (last year) and should be there again," said Coach Wayne Reisberg.

The girls team likely will have more difficulty this year, since the team is rather thin on experience. Last year's only state tournament qualifier, Laura McGinley, has graduated, and only four runners with any varsity experience return.

"I guess we're probably in the middle of the pack," said Coach Rick Cook of his squad.

Westminster Owls

Westminster appears loaded on both teams.

The boys, like South Carroll, have just four returning varsity runners, but three of the four finished in the top 20 at last year's state Class 4A meet, led by runner-up Scott Luers, now a senior. And Coach Jim Gilford said this year's newcomers should more than make up for graduation losses.

"With what we have coming back, we're better off than we were at this time last year," said Gilford, whose team beat Severna Park of Anne Arundel County by 33 points in the state meet last year.

Jeff Eyler, for example, usually was fifth through seventh among the Owls last year, but Gilford said the junior is struggling to crack the top seven varsity spots this year.

As strong as the boys are, the girls team may have even more returning talent. Last year's top runner -- Mara McAndrew -- has graduated, but four of the top 30 finishers in the 1989 state meet are back for the Owls, led by juniors Bonnie Bullock and Liz VanDerslice.

"I think we're going to do well everywhere we go," Gilford said. "I've scheduled a real tough season for us."

Frederick, which won the state title last year but lost to Westminster earlier in the season, looms as a major contender in the conference, region and state.

Western Md. Terrors

The Green Terrors are primed for a season which will see them play host to the other two dozen Middle Atlantic Conference teams in early November for the loop championships.

The men's roster of 11 includes five returnees, but newcomer Derek Johnston, a Howard County product, had the team's best time Saturday in a season-opening tie with Hagerstown Junior College in the Essex Community College Invitational in Baltimore County.

"We have the potential to run well," said Coach Doug Renner. "By far, this team has come in in the best shape of all the teams I've ever coached."

Haverford, which returns most of the top runners from its MAC championship team of a year ago, is the preseason favorite again, Renner said.

For the women, sophomores Kendra Weible and Kourtney Sweeney are running one-two and helped the Green Terrors finish second to Navy at the Essex meet.

"We're beating down the doors trying to get some more bodies," said Renner, whose five-woman team has barely enough for a full squad -- with no room for injuries or missed busses.

Swarthmore won last year's MAC title and has plenty returning, Renner said, but he noted Messiah and Gettysburg (which includes Westminster High grad McAndrew) could battle for the crown, too.

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