Jim McCoach had hoped his team could remain a dark-horse threat, sneaking up on its cross country foes.
But in light of Calvert Hall's effort in last weekend's Anne Arundel Invitational, including a near-upset of top-ranked C. Milton Wright, he said, "I guess the cat's out of the bag."
Although his underclassman-laden squad lost a tie-breaker to the Harford County champion Mustangs, they emerged as front-runner in the race for this year's Maryland Scholastic Association A Conference crown.
"I wish we could have stayed in the weeds a little longer, so we could kind of wait around and jump on people," said the fourth-year coach, whose Cardinals were not ranked in The Sun's preseason top 10.
But McCoach knew his best-kept secret wasn't going to last much longer.
Entering last weekend, the Cardinals had been burying the opposition, including a season-opening 17-42 victory over No. 9 Curley, last year's MSA meet runner-up to No. 7 Loyola.
And last week's performance earned them a No. 2 ranking and a rematch with the Mustangs in this weekend's Harford County Invitational, a meet McCoach would have bypassed had his squad beaten the Mustangs.
"It was nip and tuck the whole way, and my kids worked hard to push everything up to the front," said McCoach, who had five runners finish in under 18 minutes in the meet.
When the top five runners from each team had completed the 3.1-mile course, the Mustangs and the Cardinals each had 61 points.
For the Mustangs, All-Metro Brian Harris (16 minutes, 49 seconds) was the champion, followed by teammates Steve Donahue (seventh), Troy Morse (11th), Kevin Koffenberger (19th) and Greg Steven (23rd).
The Cardinals had runner-up Kyle Martin (17:00), Jonathan Detrich (eighth), Kurt Martin (12th), Kevin Savarese (18th) and Rick Stewart (21st).
When a cross country meet is tied, the team with the next-highest runner wins, and the Mustangs had the next-best finishers with Chad Boyle (26th) and Chris Parkinson (32nd) ahead of the Cardinals' Chad Hardy (34th).
"I knew about the Martin twins, but they surprised me with some of the rest," said C. Milton Wright coach Bob Johnson, whose squad crushed No. 3-ranked and defending Class 4A state champ Westminster and No. 5 Old Mill in an earlier meet.
Said McCoach: "We knew C. Milton Wright was the No. 1 team, so we had to pay attention to them. But the entire field was very competitive and I thought everyone ran well against it."
The Cardinals finished ahead of fourth-ranked Centennial, which placed third, Old Mill (fourth), No. 6 Perry Hall (fifth) and defending Anne Arundel County champion Severna Park (sixth).
The Harford Invitational also will feature Quince Orchard of Montgomery County, last year's Class 4A runner-up to Westminster.
At Anne Arundel, Calvert Hall swept the B and C level races, geared for varsity runners who are a level behind the starters, and JV runners.
"We're built," said Detrich, a 15-year-old sophomore. "I think we have at least 12 guys who could be on the varsity and start. And I don't think everyone has run their best times yet."
Kyle Martin is usually the No. 1 runner, followed by Detrich and Kirk Martin. But as Tuesday's 15-50 shellacking of St. Paul's showed, the order can change on any given day.
Stewart and Dave Maxwell were first against St. Paul's, followed by Detrich, Chris Loveland and Kurt Martin.
"Our general consensus is that we knew we could beat some of those teams," said Kyle Martin. "But we were kind of disappointed, losing to C. Milton Wright. So this weekend, we have something else to shoot for."