The traditional front-runners in the Baltimore County cross-country races remain in place, but those races could become much closer this season.
For the boys, Calvert Hall again should be at the top of the county's private schools. Coach Jim McCoach again has a talented lineup as the Cardinals go after a fourth straight sweep of the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference regular-season title and the MIAA championship meet.
The Cardinals, who have not lost a dual meet in the A Conference in three years, should be led by seniors Cory Smith (MIAA champion last year) and Doug Stewart (third in MIAA). Junior Eric Linder and sophomore Jed McCormick will fight for the No. 3 spot while seniors Tim Myers, Bryan Seipp, Mike Feroli and Matt Walters battle for No. 5.
McCoach's group has some obstacles to overcome. The A Conference should be very tight with McDonogh, Gilman and Curley all fielding strong teams. Curley, in fact, topped the Cardinals at the Jack Griffin Invitational last weekend. Plus, Stewart will miss a few weeks with a viral infection.
"Our conference will be quite a deal this year," said McCoach. "I'm looking forward to it. It's going to be interesting."
McDonogh should help make it interesting. Coach Andy Gill's Eagles should be led by senior Anders Fristedt. Last spring, he set an MIAA record in the 1,600 and keeps getting better and better.
Juniors Garth Terry, Alex Taylor and Bill Burch plus senior Mark Gormley should help the Eagles make a run at the title.
On the girls' side, Mount de Sales and Notre Dame Prep made repeated runs at each other last year and should do it again this season. NDP (10-1) lost to Mount de Sales in the regular season, but answered by beating the Sailors in the Association of Independent Schools championship.
"We'd like to repeat as AIS champions," said NDP coach Ed Donnellan. "Nobody has ever repeated as AIS champions. I think we're ready to take another step up."
And junior Carrie Kroll should help. She finished fifth in the AIS last year and is the No. 1 runner. Sophomores Katie Baird (10th in AIS, top freshman) and Heather Ward (11th in AIS), along with freshman Laura Sellinger and senior Meghan Schaub round out the top group.
Mount de Sales found a nice surprise to lead it this season. Senior Bridget Quenzer, who had never run cross country before, was the top local finisher at the Jack Griffin Invitational last weekend and she won the Spiked Shoe yesterday. Coach Sean Moran expects big things from her and junior Katie Cardoni, the lone returning varsity runner. After that, Moran has five underclassmen (three freshmen, two sophomores), who could have a big impact. "The potential is there for this to be the best team we've ever had," said Moran.
On the public school side, the Perry Hall boys will have to fight off an improved Parkville squad if it wants to win a 10th straight county title.
Perry Hall, which won its region last year and finished in the top five in the state, should be led by junior Jason Harle (second in county). Seniors Ryan Alessi and Chris Horodowicz should follow for coach Jerry Martin.
But Martin then brings up the top five runners in last year's JV championships -- juniors Omar Knight, Matt Hester, Kerry Kimes and Eric Swartz along with sophomore Kirk Bouffard.
"This has the potential to be a very good team," said Martin. "We're looking to see how they perform under competitive conditions because workouts have been good."
Parkville adds longtime successful coach Jesse Hannon to its cast of strong runners. Senior Joe Smith leads the Knights; he won the county and region titles and finished in the top five at the states.
Seniors Steve Hedgspeth and John Runner, plus junior Darryl Conney follow and junior Matt Comins and senior Jason Klarman should fight for the No. 5 spot. Depth could be their biggest problem.
Dulaney once again should be the class of the girls' side. The Lions, who captured the county, region and state championships last year, bring back most of their top runners.
Senior Suzanne Sclafani (14th in state) and junior Meghan White (seventh in state) should lead the way.
Sophomore Marjorie Bollinger missed four weeks last year but returned to do well in the postseason. Sophomore Bianca Jay and juniors Melissa Wilson, Meredith Feldman and Holly Zahner will help the Lions go for a repeat.
"Repeating is a very difficult thing to do," said Dulaney coach Bob Dean.
Catonsville, which lost the Class 2A state title to Damascus in a controversial tiebreaker, will be hoping to catch Dulaney. Led by Brigid O'Connell (won the region, second in county and state), the Comets have most of their top talent back.
Emily Knight (senior) and junior Gina Panella help make up a top three that coach Jeff McDaniel said "can run with just about anybody."