Boys Runner of the Year
* Joe Ledda, Liberty, Jr.-- Quiet but intense, Ledda lived out his dream in the Carroll County championship race. Ledda said his goal was to win the county championship because he never had won a big race. He took the top spot by 10 seconds over Westminster's Tim Meerschaert, who had run just three seconds behind Ledda in the Central Maryland Conference championships. It was the third time Ledda had beaten Meerschaert in four confrontations this season, and was just enough to push him past Meerschaert for the Runner of the Year honors. Liberty coach Dan Jones said it is rare to see a high school runner prepare himself so thoroughly for a race. Ledda also wanted to break into the 16-minute-plus club, and he did it in grand style in the 2A regionals at Middletown, finishing in 16 minutes, 16 seconds for fourth place. Ledda thought he had a 16:59 at the county meet but it was an inadvertent call and the official time had him at 17:01.
Boys Coach of the Year
* Jim Gilford, Westminster -- Gilford lost all his top runners from last year, except Shawn Donovan, yet guided the Owls to a second consecutive second-place finish in the state 4A championships. Along the way, Gilford and Westminster won their 10th straight county title and seventh straight Central Maryland Conference championship. Gilford just keeps defying the odds. In the state meet, everyone had conceded the title to Quince Orchard and the fight was on for second place. "All the Arundel and Perry Hall people figured one of them would be second," said Gilford. "They never counted us in the running, but we did it. Maybe someday we'll get our due respect if we keep going back there and doing well." The Owls have won two state 4A titles in the past five years and have three seconds.
Boys First Team
* Damon Battaglia, Francis Scott Key, Jr. -- Two things that made Damon the top runner for the Eagles -- he was always prepared and always bounced back from disappointing finishes. He ran as low as sixth last season but became No. 1 at the start of this season. Highlights for Battaglia were an exciting comeback to win a dual meet against Middletown, a fifth-place finish in the county championship, third in the 1A regional meet that led the Eagles to a first-place finish, and 14th in the 1A state finals that helped Key take third overall.
* Justin Combs, Liberty, Jr. -- This intense runner spent an entire season pushing teammate Joe Ledda to greater heights. Ledda became the county's Runner of the Year, and Combs was not too far behind him to give Liberty a superb 1-2 punch. Lions coach Dan Jones said Combs is even more intense than Ledda, which says a lot. Combs made the second All-Central Maryland Conference team with a ninth-place finish at Linganore, and he was fourth in the county meet.
* Shawn Donovan, Westminster, Sr. -- A four-year runner for the Owls, Donovan would have been in the limelight at most schools. At Westminster, he was behind such outstanding runners at Jim Holford, Chris Zendgraft and Tim Meerschaert. However, Donovan took pride in the fact he was the No. 1 alternate on the team that won the state 4A title in 1991 and was a major part of two second-place 4A state teams the past two years. Westminster coach Jim Gilford praised Donovan for his "tremendous leadership" and a 17th-place finish in the states.
* Bryan Gunning, North Carroll, Jr. -- This hard-working runner has given North Carroll cross country hope for the future with some outstanding championship races in the Central Maryland Conference (seventh), Carroll County (sixth), 2A regionals (10th) and the 2A states (23rd). "Let's hope we can build on what Bryan has done for us this season," said first-year coach Tom Davidson. Gunning, a quiet person by nature, asks a lot of questions about running and keeps improving. His fluid stride is what makes him such a consistent runner, said Davidson.
* Tim Meerschaert, Westminster, Sr. -- Coming from Michigan, Meerschaert made a big splash and came close to being Runner of the Year. Meerschaert was brilliant in the 4A states, turning in a 16:47 time at Hereford for a fourth-place finish. In four head-to-head duels with Runner of the Year Joe Ledda, Meerschaert won the first one in the Westminster Invitational, was four seconds behind in a tri-meet at Westminster, finished second by 10 seconds in the county championships and was three seconds behind in the Central Maryland Conference championships. Ledda took second and Meerschaert was third in the CMCs. Meerschaert started out seventh on the team this season, was No. 2 after the first race and soon became No. 1.
* Mike Recek, Westminster, Soph. -- Owls coach Jim Gilford puts Recek in some fast company, saying he is the best sophomore he has coached since two-time state champion and Olympic trials participant Steve Kartalia (1980-82). Gilford believes Recek will be a major force in the state if he keeps progressing. Recek finished 10th in the 4As with a 16:59 clocking. Recek is something of a natural, as he just took up distance running this year and was an instant success. Recek ran second to Meerschaert all season, giving the Owls a lot of certain points in each race.
Girls Runner of the Year
* Shannon Hugg, Francis Scott Key, Sr. -- Hugg lost her No. 1 position on the Key cross-country team early last season to freshman sensation Ali Jones and never quite recovered all year, finishing one second behind Jones in the county championship race. But Hugg, spurred by her family, came back this season to take the top spot away from Jones in the first race of the season, and she was No. 1 easily all year. "I didn't want to settle for the second spot on the team," Hugg said after beating the injury-marred Jones by nearly two minutes in the county title race this year. Key coach Rich Salkin said he always will admire the way Hugg set up a rigid training base during the past summer to regain the No. 1 position. "Shannon was at races all over the county during the summer and trained on her own," said Salkin. "She set an example for other county athletes with her training base."
Girls Coaches of the Year
* Rob Pennington and Dale Hooper, South Carroll -- All the preseason talk was about the possibility of Francis Scott Key and its host of talented runners finally catching up to Westminster and beating the Owls. But when the last girl crossed the finish line at Western Maryland College on Oct. 29, it was the South Carroll girls who had made a surprising run at Westminster and finished only 12 seconds behind the team that won its fifth straight girls title. Pennington and Hooper had developed two premier freshman -- Carrie Braun and Ann Mullins -- who were the talk of the meet and gave Westminster and Key a lot to think about the next three years, barring injuries. Braun said she did so well because she ate a lot of pizza before the race. But Pennington and Hooper believe her success and the team's was because of a workout program that Pennington got out of Runner's World. The workout program had the Cavaliers running hard one day and taking it easy the next, said Hooper. The two coaches decided before the season to be co-coaches for the boys and girls, and it worked.
Girls First Team
* Carrie Braun, South Carroll, Fresh. -- This freshman came virtually out of nowhere to become a major factor in the county girls championship race with a third-place finish. When she went on to finish 10th in the 3A regionals and 13th in the 3A states (20:28), there was no question Braun was for real. But Braun has wondered what all the fuss is about, because she didn't win any of those races. After taking a surprising third in the county championships, Braun said, "I don't know what the big deal is. It will be something to talk about if I win." Cavaliers co-coach Dale Hooper said he has enjoyed Braun's reaction to the spotlight: "I don't think she quite knows how to react to all this." Braun was discovered by coaches Hooper and Brad Pennington when she filled out a card at New Windsor Middle School saying she was interested in running for the Cavaliers.
* Amy Elwell, Westminster, Sr. -- No runner in the county fought harder to compete this season than Elwell, who had to overcome an asthmatic condition to make the All-County first team for a second straight season. She is one of four girls to repeat as first-teamers. Elwell was up and down all season, depending on the weather and her asthma. But when she was up, she was superb, taking sixth at the Central Maryland Conference championships and 10th in the county title race. Elwell is a very aggressive runner and an outstanding athlete, and it was tough for her to give in to her condition and she rarely did.
* Brooke Hammel, Westminster, Jr. -- Another repeat first-team choice from last year, Hammel is considered the best athlete on the Owls girls team. She finished second to county Girls Runner of the Year Shannon Hugg in the county championships and is heading toward what coach Dale Fogelsanger hopes is a superb senior season. Hammel took 18th in the state 4A title race, the top finish for Westminster. She became the team's most consistent runner at the end of the season.
* Christine Harner, Francis Scott Key, Jr. -- A pre-stress leg fracture prevented Harner from running in the county championship race, but she came back in the 1A regionals to run and help Key win the team title and qualify for the states. Harner took eighth place in the regionals. "If Christine hadn't been able to run in the regionals, we wouldn't have qualified for the states," said first-year Key coach Rich Salkin. "It was a tough decision to hold her out of the counties but it turned out to be the right one for her and our team." Harner went on to have a superb race in the state 1A championships, finishing 14th with a 21:15 time.
* Emily Jones, Westminster, Jr. -- A mysterious case of cramps late in the season cost Jones her No. 1 position on the Owls, who won their fifth straight county title. Jones was cruising before the cramps set in before the Central Maryland Conference championships, where she finished 35th. But she came back to take sixth in the county championships the next week. "We never really knew what caused the cramps," said Westminster coach Dale Fogelsanger. "We tried some different things. I guess it might have been nervousness. But we're looking to next season for Emily. She's a motivator and leader on our team."
* Jen Meyers, Liberty, Sr. -- Coach Dan Jones calls Meyers a "perfect role model" for his team. Meyers' season was ended prematurely last year by a sprained ankle but she fought back this year to take fourth in the county championships and 14th in the Central Maryland Conference title race. She saved her best race for the 2A regionals at Middletown, running a 20:43 for ninth place. Jones said he will have trouble replacing Meyers next season.
* Ann Mullins, South Carroll, Fresh. -- Running for the Cavaliers this season wasn't high on the list for Mullins. She had to be coaxed into coming out for the team by coaches Dale Hooper and Rob Pennington, and it proved to be a super move. Mullins is part of the 1-2 South Carroll freshman punch (behind Carrie Braun) that stunned a lot of people at the county championships. Braun was third and Mullins fifth, allowing South Carroll to challenge Westminster for first place in the girls team standings. The Cavaliers were only 12 points back (47) of Westminster (35). Hooper said Mullins "all of a sudden got into running and was in a groove all season."