The big changes in county cross county this year won't be because ofhot-shot new freshmen or the most recent reclassification and regional realignment.
Rather, the big news is a couple of athletes well-known in Carroll running circles -- one new to cross county and one new to his school.
Stephanie Morningstar, after three outstanding seasons as a distance runner for the Westminster track team, is giving cross country a try. Her addition to the cross country team means the Owls will have a good chance of winning the state title in November.
Jim Clarius transferred from South Carroll to Francis Scott Key over the summer, and his addition to the Eagles squad gives that team a good shot at astate title.
As the season starts, every school in the county will be able to field complete girls and boys teams comfortably for the first time in many years. Key, North Carroll, Westminster and WesternMaryland College have all had trouble fielding women's teams on at least one occasion over the past five years or so, but every high school team in the county has at least eight athletes as the season starts.
Here's how the county teams are shaping up:
FRANCIS SCOTT KEY EAGLES
Clarius joins three returnees and a host of promising newcomers that have Coach Jim Bullock's eyes set on Monocacy Valley Athletic League, regional and Class 1A state titles. About the only place hedoesn't expect to win a title is in Carroll County, where he hopes to finish second behind Class 4A power Westminster.
While Clarius alone is a big boost, he provides an added bonus by giving top returnee Mitch Jones someone to chase in practice. Pushing those two in practice, among others, are newcomers Jonathan Hjembo and Kenny Oldham.
"When we had our first meeting, I told the boys, 'Let's go for top three in the state,' " Bullock said. "After Clarius transferred in, Isaid, 'Let's go for the top spot.' "
Boonsboro, North Hagerstown and Brunswick figure to be the top contenders for the MVAL boys crown.
Key's girls finally managed to have a complete team in most of their meets last year after having just two members on the team three years ago. Now, with nine on the squad, the idea is to earn some respect and a team berth in the state championship meet.
Bullock has all five runners back from last year's team, but the leader thus far has been sophomore newcomer Shannon Hugg, whose father, Bobby, had theschool record in the mile run in the early 1970s. Another important new face is Eleni Koutsouradis, who lives in Catonsville, Baltimore County, but attends Key so she can work in the evenings at her family's Country Kitchen restaurant in Taneytown.
Those newcomers will blend in with the returnees, led by seniors Cindy Bollinger and Sarah Ensor. A key for the team right now, Bullock says, is getting a solid group of runners in the fifth, sixth and seventh positions on the team.
The girls program has dominated for the Lions in recent years, but the boys may make a bigger splash this year. If IanBeam and Tim Ahern can stay injury-free this season, they'll join with newcomers Aaron Sweemer, Justin Combs and Joe Ledda as a formidable nucleus.
"Ian's hungry," said Coach Brad Hill of Bean, who's added 20 pounds of muscle to his lean frame. "He and Aaron Sweemer are really pushing each other. It's really good to have new kids. If you don't have those fresh kids coming in every year, the other kids get complacent."
Hill said the Lions aren't in the same class with Westminster but have a good chance of qualifying for the state meet this year as a Class 2A school.
A couple of no-shows means the girls team is starting its rebuilding program a year ahead of schedule. Seniors Rachael Adams and Curry Snelson and sophomore Jen Myers return, but Patty Barnhardt didn't come out for the team this year ("I was really disappointed by that," Hill said) and Jen Lowe moved to Florida.
Hill needs to find runners to round out his lineup if the Lions areto compete with Frederick in the race for second in the Central Maryland Conference, though Liberty appears to have enough talent returning to take second in the county.
The Lions also figure to qualify as a team for the state meet.
NORTH CARROLL PANTHERS
Matt Davis missed the important late-season meets last year with a hip injury, butco-coach Stu Krise said he's healthy this year, which makes him one of the top two or three runners in the county.
"He's hungry this year," Krise said of Davis, who will have several other returning runners joining him as the team tries to rebound from several difficult seasons.
Returnees James Heffner, Bob Schech and Brian Letnauchyn give the team a solid nucleus, and 14 newcomers, plus three other returnees, mean the Panthers will have some strong competition for varsity spots.
North Carroll struggled to fill a girls team last year, but that won't be the case this time around. The Panthers may not be ready to return to the program's glory days of the mid-1980s, but co-coaches Krise and Mike Bowen have 10 girls out for this year's squad.
"We have a lot of talent, but it's very young," Krise said. "Most of the girls are very talented. Right now, they're all running with each other."
Krise said he'd like to see one or two girls establishthemselves as the best runners on the team, so the squad can reduce the number of points scored in major meets.
SOUTH CARROLL CAVALIERS
This could be a tough season for the boys, who are adjusting to a new coach and lost one of the top returning runners in the county -- Clarius -- to a transfer. Matt Crill leads the returning boys, with Jeff Gray, Sean Collins, Eric Quidort and Mike Yokey the other returnees.
"We're going to be a solid team," new coach Rob Pennington said. "We've got a lot of kids with a lot of potential."
Until it's tested in a meet, though, much of that potential is unknown. Another question mark is the new regional alignment that gets rid of traditional power Oakland Mills (now a Class 2A school) but adds some schools from Prince George's County.
The girls have a few more familiar names, with returnees Karri Murphy, Melanie Phipps, Karen Hammel and Heather Young leading so far. If senior Jen Mullins rebounds from a subpar season last year, the Cavs have five solid runners.
Returnee Kathy Marks can help, too, but Coach Rick Cook says he hasn't settled on his fifth, sixth and seventh runners yet.
"(Mullins) is very determined to have a better year," Cook says.
The county juggernaut rolls on.
The girls would have been favored in thecounty, anyway, but with Morningstar running cross country after three years of girls soccer, they are prohibitive favorites now.
She joins a solid list of returnees, including Bonnie Bullock (daughter of the Key coach) and Liz VanDerslice, two runners Coach Jim Gilford credits with reviving the program after it was down to just a handful of athletes three years ago.
Beth Richardson and Mary Muller look to round out the top five, but several other experienced runners and several newcomers could be involved in meet scoring.
Morningstar, a potential top-five finisher, boosts the Owls' state title hopes by enhancing an already solid group of pack runners. But the Owls are running in what may be the most competitive girls region in the state, with the likes of Dulaney and Amanda White (third in a national meet last year), Frederick and newcomer Roosevelt of Prince George's County.
Those four likely will be near the top in the state meet too.
The boys are rebuilding but have the talent to win the county and conference titles. Dion Stanton and Chris Zendgraft are the top returnees, while newcomers Wade and Nate Shank have extensive track credentials.
"Both Shanks have a lot of running experience, but not in cross county," Gilford says. "So many good guys have come out, but the question is experience."
Perry Hall and maybe Roosevelt will challenge in the region, and those two plus Old Mill figure to do well at the state level. One plus for the Owls -- traditional Class 4A power Walt Whitman of Montgomery County has dropped down to Class 3A this year.
WMC GREEN TERRORS
Western Maryland has never finished better than 11th in the Middle Atlantic Conference, but Coach Doug Renner figures this squad has a chance to crack the top 10. It's not a really deep team, with just seven runners, but four have plenty of experience and three -- Joe Embry, Guido Stubenrauch and Andrew Krevolin -- are seniors.
"These guys have put a good three years into the program," Renner said.
But leading the way will be sophomore Derek Johnston, who was the team's top runner as a freshman. "I think we're going to be a little bit more solid behind him this year," Renner says.
The women have barely had enough for full teams in recent years, but Renner has seven on the preseason roster this time, led by returning sophomores Kendra Weible and Kristen Stockel and junior Shannon Franklin, a North Carroll High grad.
"I feel good about this team," Renner says.
He notes that Franklin, especially, has returned to her high school form, when she was one of the county's top runners.