Severna Park coach Ed Purpura is used to his girls cross country team capturing county titles, but this year he wouldn't be surprised if his boys won as well.
The Falcons, who have won county girls championships 11 of the past 12 years, are poised to sweep both team titles when the 10 county public schools gather at Annapolis High on Oct. 26 for the Anne Arundel County Championships.
"We have 25 guys on our team and for the first time in four years we'll have the best shot at winning the county," said Purpura. "Last year, our girls were an underdog but this year we're the favorites again and it's nice to be back in that role."
The Falcons boast what Purpura calls the "best one-two punch in the county" in senior Paul Mathieu and sophomore Chris Robey. Mathieu was runner-up at last year's county meet, making him the highest returning finisher.
Kim Schwan returns for Severna Park's girls team and she's joined by Erica Krajnik, Ann Crispo, Leslie Tate and Stephanie Petr, an All-County performer two years ago who missed last year with a stress fracture.
Severna Park may be favored to win the boys and girls team titles, but Annapolis has the two runners who are poised to clean up on individual awards.
Senior Ian Ross and his younger sister, Alison, a junior, are the two harriers to beat in Anne Arundel County this fall. Alison is the No. 1 returning girl and Ian made a statement by winning last week's inaugural South County Challenge.
Annapolis' girls team lost four-year standout Kristen Nicolini to Auburn but the return of Ross and seniors Becky Morris and Susan deWolff give coach Brian Funk reason to believe the Panthers can hold off Severna Park at the county meet.
"Our girls team is much stronger this year," said Funk. "I know that sounds impossible after losing Nicolini but this year we're much deeper on the girls side."
Arundel lost three of its top five runners from last year's county champion boys team, but Wildcats coach Ralph Luce said competition among his runners has been "fierce," giving him reason to believe his team will continue to be successful.
Battling to represent the Wildcats boys team are seniors Chad Webber and Adam Sayani and sophomores Ryan Morse, Ben Baxter, Alexis Rostick and Matt Hardy.
Transfers and a change of sports have helped boost Arundel's girls team. The Wildcats' top female is junior Jennifer Ng, a transfer from Alaska. Pushing her will be Stephanie Rahon, who transferred from Italy, and Jessica Platka, a senior who played volleyball her first three years at Arundel.
South River's boys team has everyone back from last year but one and that one is county champion Jack Longley. The Seahawks return six of their top seven runners including senior Jason Berger and juniors Jeremy Schropp and Eric Arnold.
"I don't have one superstar but I do have some depth and for a small [Class 2A] school we should do well against the bigger [4A] schools like Severna Park, Broadneck and Arundel," said South River coach Scott Baker.
The Seahawks' girls team returns two second-team All-County selections in seniors Colleen McLaughlin and Jess King, but with only five girls out for the team, one injury or absence will force it to withdraw from any team competition.
Despite having three seniors on his boys team, Broadneck coach Gerald Kiple maintains that both his boys and girls teams are young and inexperienced.
Seniors Jon Carnes and Ryan Schmidt, the Bruins' top finisher at last year's state meet, will join forces with first-year senior Julian Tai.
Broadneck's girls squad is led by sophomores Stephanie Hooper, Amanda Schmidt, Sarah Haines and Danielle Delancey and junior Carolyn Kosicki.
Old Mill graduated its top male and female distance runners -- Chris Long and Jessica Davis -- but Patriots coach Gary Bader expects his teams to finish higher than they did at last season's county meet.
Juniors Jon Mikeska, Ian Turmelle and Mike Rafferty and sophomores Drew Wright and Ryan Boetig are expected to lead the boys for Old Mill while seniors Bobbi Jo Ritter, Amy Kulesca and Kirsten Bolt should set the pace for the girls.
Chesapeake coach John Maguire doesn't have anyone to fill the shoes of Ryan Stevens, now at UMBC, but he does have three solid distance runners in senior Craig Dotson and juniors Justin Wooridge and Chris Hammett.
Maguire does have a Stevens back on the girls side and he's expecting big things from Ryan's sister Stephanie, now a senior.
Glen Burnie lost two runners that anchored the girls team the past three seasons but the departure of Missy Hennessey and Becky McDivitt has been softened by the return of sophomore Kristy Klima. Klima, who finished sixth at last year's state meet, opened the season with a victory in last week's Queen Anne's Invitational.
Meade coach Jay Cuthbert never knows what kind of talent he will have from one year to the next. Cuthbert hoped to have Amy Cronin on his squad again but a military transfer wiped that out.
Cuthbert did, however, retain a good group of junior girls including Harmony Wiltfong, Bryn Tweedy, Teneka Hopkins, Sheena Taylor, Tara Jones, Mia Diggs and Dana Crawford.
On the boys side, the Mustangs are thin with senior Jeff Pitts and sophomores John Thomas and Tom Hughes setting the pace.
Sprinter-rich North County has been traditionally weak in distance running and this season is no different. Senior James Rabbit and junior Jason Pardoe are the Knights' two top boys while Kerrie Miller and Jessica Pratt are North County's most promising female harriers.
With only three returning runners, St. Mary's boys team is in for a rebuilding year in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association B Conference.
Saints coach Ron Hunter, who started the program three years ago, had his biggest turnout yet with 14 boys, which should help his team be more competitive.
St. Mary's girls team has applied to join the Association of Independent Schools league but will have to compete independently for at least one more season.
Senior Ryan Barney has emerged as a leader on the Saints' boys team and senior Colleen Ruane and sophomores Keeley Corboy, Audra Oliver and Kristi Ambrosetti are expected to anchor the girls.
Severn's boys are ready to embark on their inaugural season in the MIAA. Coach Jeff Hardy is relying on Brian Poile, Keegan Evans, Warren Price and Zach Walters to carry his boys team.
Sophomore Emily Gates, a talented transfer student from Tennessee, will lead the girls.
"It's a base-building season for us," said Hardy. "We're trying to lay down the foundation for what we hope to be a fruitful endeavor for us in the future."