The Westminster boys provide the simplest, yet biggest, question at the start of the 1995 cross country season. How good are they?
"If we're healthy, we have a pack that can go to seven," said Westminster coach Jim Gilford, whose team returns five of its top seven runners. "We feel like if we can stay healthy, we're in it with other [top contenders for the state title]."
Westminster has won the Central Maryland Conference crown all eight years it has existed. The Owls also won the county last year and took third in a brutal region before finishing fourth in the state.
This year, the lineup certainly looks strong on paper. Leading the pack is defending county, CMC, region and state champion Mike Recek. The senior lost only one race last year -- to Oakland Mills star Greg Curtis.
Helping Recek will be seniors Josh Heckathorn and Shane Martin along with junior Dave Barnes, sophomore Greg Fisher, junior Danny Carter and senior Tony Palaia.
"I would say it's our best chance for [a state title since the last one in 1991]," said Gilford. "This time, I know we can put a lot of runners up near the front."
Francis Scott Key and South Carroll both should put some runners up near the front of their races.
Eagles coach Rich Salkin has a very young team. Sophomores Josh Hollman, David Higgs, Sean Deal and Brett Eversole, freshmen Josh Shamer and Adam Meyer and junior David Mead should carry the load.
The Eagles finished fourth in the county last year, but took third in the region and third in the state.
"There's definitely reason to be optimistic," said Salkin. "The opportunity to work with a team this young and this talented is what a coach would be looking for."
South Carroll coach Rob Pennington gets a similar opportunity. Junior Sean Rayford should lead the pack for the Cavaliers, followed by senior Bob Coffman, junior Eric Parks, sophomores Adam McCready and Joe Shaffer and freshman Steve Hammel. The Cavaliers have done well in early meets, losing by two to Key in a quad-meet with Liberty and North Carroll.
North Carroll also hopes to improve. Coach Tom Davidson's Panthers field a junior-laden team that keeps getting better.
Sophomore Jeremy Cuno may have the inside track for the top spot. Juniors Nick Mancuso, Neil Lagatare, John Hale, Kevin Donaldson and Ralph Henry and sophomore Wil Hann also should help.
Dan Jones is hoping for a good season at Liberty. With a very young squad, Jones said this should be a building -- but not necessarily painful -- year.
Sophomore Bobby Ward should lead the way, followed by senior Ken Fischer and sophomores Kevin Rose, Mike Veise and Matt Wilder. Jones said it is just a matter of how and when his team develops -- the raw talent is there.
On the girls side, Francis Scott Key will try to repeat its strong season of a year ago when it won the county and region before taking second in the state.
The Eagles lost the top two from last year, but Salkin brings back a solid base. Seniors Ali Jones and Kim Hugg, followed by sophomores Kristen Engel and Dawn Harner plus senior Laura Boesler and junior Liz Meyer provide a good nucleus.
"I think that if the girls come together and continue to work on their performance, they can go after the county and the region again," said Salkin.
South Carroll, Westminster and Liberty all should be very close.
For the Cavaliers, coach Dale Hooper's squad is led by one of the county's top runners from 1994, junior Carrie Braun. Sophomore Jill Krebs, senior Stephanie Linton, junior Annie Mullins and freshman Dawna Weber will help. The Cavaliers already have a quad-meet against Key, North Carroll and Liberty.
Westminster has a lot of depth -- 29 runners overall -- but just as much youth. Senior Sherry Esposito, with three years experience in track and field, makes her debut in cross country and looks to be sharing the top spot with freshman Angie Baer.
Freshman Sarah Brumfitt, sophomore Jessica Detrow, senior Heidi Metzger and junior Sarah Gosnell should help. Coach Jim Shank said the team should do well in the county and conference.
Liberty could be the wild card. The Lions have a very young team -- no seniors -- but a talented group that Jones said will be front-runners in most meets.
Sophomore Brittany Collins and juniors Jill Ondercin, Nettie Vasbinder, Reagan Hughes and Andrea DiPietro have been working hard in the preseason.
For North Carroll, this is a building season. New coach Dana Gyury gets an entire team that has never run cross country before. Gyury said junior Chris Mullinix, freshmen Sarah Foor-Hogue and Jenny Bundra plus sophomores Jessica Bowen and Darlene Graham will work hard to learn and improve.