Glen Burnie cross country coach Tony Beniciewicz says that when he first noticed the large number of talented freshman female runners across the state last year, "I just couldn't believe it."
As sophomores, they're still performing unbelievably.
Several county teams are being led by these second-year
wonders -- girls who have fought, and won, their share of uphill battles.
"This has never happened in so many schools at one time," said Annapolis coach Tom Neiles, whose team includes perhaps the best runner of any age in sophomore Kristen Nicolini. "Maybe there was something in the water last year."
Said Chesapeake coach John McGuire: "It's just a matter of evolution, or chance, or timing of nature."
Among the young stars are Jessica Davis of Old Mill, Rebecca McDivitt of Glen Burnie, Brianna Weidman of Severna Park and Mary Luckhart and Casey Drebitko of Chesapeake. The list goes on and on, just as the coaches do when the subject turns to one of these exceptional young runners.
"Most of these girls have the same physical tools," said Old Mill assistant coach Leon Walters. "Distance running is largely mental. You've got to have that determination to push yourself when your muscles ache and you're having trouble breathing. You need to have that determination to push you body. Jessica's got it."
Davis was the county's highest finisher at the Harford Invitational on Oct. 10, taking eighth place in 20 minutes, 52 seconds, the third-best time among the state's Class 4A competitors. She began the season by setting a course record (21:26) at Old Mill against Westminster.
Davis, 5 feet 2 1/2 , placed 10th in the county meet and 28th at the states last year. She took eighth at the regional meet, one spot behind Weidman and ahead of McDivitt (ninth) and Luckhart (10th).
Nicolini didn't compete in those meets last year, instead devoting her time to swimming at the Severna Park YMCA. But she contributed this season just by joining the team.
"She has attracted other girls to the program," Neiles said of Nicolini, a top-four finisher in three events at the state outdoor track meet last spring. "We have one of our first full teams in several years -- 15 girls."
She set course records at the Meade Invitational (19:35), the Anne Arundel County Invitational at Annapolis (19:30) and the Frederick Invitational (18:40).
"Of all the girls in the county, she's No. 1," Neiles said. "She's run against everybody so far and nobody is near her."
Neiles said he believes Nicolini and Queen Anne's Krissy Jost, who placed second to Severna Park's Fran Mackney in the regional meet last year, are "neck-and-neck." But Nicolini defeated Yost in the Meade Invitational, at least temporarily squelching that debate.
"I've been coaching 24 years," Neiles said, "and I've never seen such a strong runner as Kristen."
Nicolini said she now enjoys cross country more than track. "We're running in the woods and stuff. I like that better," she
One of Nicolini's swimming partners at the Severna Park YMCA is McDivitt, whose diverse interests include playing the alto saxophone in Glen Burnie's concert and marching bands.
McDivitt placed third in the Meade and Queen Anne's invitationals this season, and last year was seventh in the county meet.
"She runs the two-mile in track, and she's pretty decent," Beniciewicz said. "But when she's in the open country, she's much better."
No countian was better last year than Mackney, who took third at the states. Her departure left Weidman as Severna Park's No. 1 runner, a position she earned by placing sixth in the county and seventh at the state meets last fall.
Weidman has been limited to one meet because of knee and hamstring injuries. She took fourth at the Anne Arundel County ++ Invitational.
"When she gets healthy, she is really a talented runner," said Falcons coach Ed Purpura. "It's just been one [injury] after another, which is frustrating her and me. But she really makes our team go."
Chesapeake is another team on the move, and the driving force is four sophomores -- Luckhart, Drebitko, Linda Marcinkevich and Kelly Lockner. "They're a very vital part of our team," McGuire said.
Luckhart placed 12th in the county meet last year, but Drebitko has overtaken her as Chesapeake's most productive runner so far.
Such a wealth of sophomore talent has become the envy of the few, less-fortunate programs.
"I wish we had one," said Arundel coach Ralph Luce.
He'll have to wait for the next evolution. Or hope for better timing of nature.
Or maybe it was the water.