Centennial, fortified with the largest turnout in school history (45), is expected to win the boys county cross country championship and have a good shot at winning a state title.
Wilde Lake and Oakland Mills appear to be the next two best boys teams with Atholton, Howard, Hammond and Glenelg looking to break into the top four.
The Centennial girls, who turned out in a school-record number (28), also are the favorite to take the county championship and will challenge for a state title.
Oakland Mills, Atholton, Wilde Lake and Glenelg should be the top county challengers to Centennial.
Atholton has 74 boys and 34 girls, the biggest turnout of any school in county history, and for the first time will have a travel squad of 25 boys and 25 girls.
Senior Zach Tropf is a runner to watch after his fifth-place county finish and an 11th at states earned him All-County honors.
The Raiders finished fourth in the county and 10th at states.
Joining Tropf is senior Anthony Fleg (10th county).
Earl Lauer, coaching his 25th season of cross country (23 years at Atholton), also expects good things from freshman Mike Prada. Junior Jeff Bailey, senior Steve Allison and sophomore Sean O'Hargen will compete for the fourth and fifth spots.
Dana Strickland, Class 2A state champion and first-team All-Metro, returns for her final season having made a strong commitment to running this summer. She is expected to win the county and regional meets, but because Atholton has moved up to Class 3A, she will face the nearly impossible task of defeating Walter Johnson's Sally Glynn at the state meet.
Freshman Kelli Block has stepped up as Atholton's No. 2 runner. Senior Jessica Henry is No. 3, and junior Amanda Lipscomb (14th county) is No. 4. Junior Chelsea Hartz (15th county) and sophomore Wendy Sare will battle for No. 5.
The Atholton girls finished fourth in the county and ninth in the state.
Senior All-County runner Mike French leads a boys team that already has won the Jack Griffin and Howard County Striders invitationals this season, an accomplishment that has it hoping for a state championship. Calvert Hall and Curley were among the teams at Griffin.
"Two years ago when we won a state title we started out by winning the Griffin and the Howard County invitationals," coach Al Dodds said.
French (fourth county, second state) finished sixth at the Griffin and fourth at the Striders, but is capable of winning most races on any given day.
The pecking order is junior Eric Myers (eighth county, 12th state), senior Matt Augustin (13th county), junior Jeff Olenick, first-year senior Tom Schappeler, senior Brian Higgens, junior Josh Sternfeld and senior Charlie Simms.
"We have four of our top five boys back, and last year we had none of our top four," Dodds said.
Senior All-Metro runner Kari Meyer (second county, ninth state) heads the girls team that finished fifth at Griffin and second at the Striders.
"This is the girls' best start ever," Dodds said. "Historically, we start slowly."
Sophomore Sarah Ordaz is No. 2 and freshman Leigh Tillman No. 3. Returning junior Alison Pople (11th county) is being pressured by freshman Neha Amin for the No. 4 spot, with senior Jessica Tatania also close. Sophomores Rebecca Kulak and Sarah Cooke are running well.
The Centennial boys finished second in the state last year and the girls were eighth.
Junior Chris Selmer (ninth state) finished strong last season, giving Glenelg hopes of a better 1995. The Gladiators finished last in the county.
Senior Luis Diaz, a former soccer player, has moved into the No. 2 slot behind Selmer. And junior Sam Bettien is No. 3. After that, juniors David Holland, Sean Madden, Jason Habert and Sanjay Pant, and sophomore Bryan Stepp are fighting for positions.
"After finishing last in the county we were fourth in the region and 15th in the state last year, so that shows you how tough the county is," Glenelg coach Roger Volrath said. "Our boys' goals are top four in the county and top 10 in the state."
With no seniors, the girls team is unusually young, but All-County sophomore captain Beth Santilli (third county, fourth state) is stronger and hoping to lead a resurgence for the Gladiators, who finished sixth in the county meet and 10th in the Class 2A state meet.
Sophomores Elizabeth Dodmead and Joanna Bissell supply Glenelg with quality No. 2 and No. 3 runners.
Beyond them, sophomores Anna Edmonston and Marianne Hayden, and juniors Meggan Brown and Sarah Kellinger hope to score points. The Gladiators also have promising freshmen Kirsten Hogan.
Glenelg Country Dragons
Last season the Dragons went 20-1, losing only to Potomac (Va.).
That kind of season is unlikely this year, because the boys squad is down from 23 to 14 and has only two seniors.
But the Dragons have two outstanding freshmen who would be welcome at any school in the county -- Zach Heidepriem (No. 1) and Jonathan Bullock (No. 2).
Junior Kevin Marshall is a newcomer to running but has won the No. 3 spot.
Coach Trey Cassidy predicts that senior Jack Keene "will come into his own." Keene will be No. 4 or No. 5. Senior Mike Bullock will be a top-five runner. And sophomore Mike Shippen, a former soccer player, also may crack the top five.
GSC moves into the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association and will compete among the smaller schools such as Park and Friends.
:. The Dragons do not have a full girls team.
The Bears have a larger-than-normal turnout of 23 boys and hope to improve upon last season's seventh-place county finish.
Junior John Wallace is a returnee from among the team's top five last season and is running No. 1. Senior Ralph Bodenner, a first-year runner, is No. 2.
Andrew Stockham, a fourth-year man, has moved up to No. 3.
Sophomore Josh Law is a returnee who was among the top five and currently is running No. 4. Junior Matt Jacobson has moved to No. 5, and Dan Serpico is pushing to make the top five.
"We're unproven but we look competitive," coach Larry Roberts said. "We may surprise a few people."
The girls team was incomplete last season but has nine runners, including returning juniors Kim Loisel and Jill Feldstein and first-year senior Erika Deloache.
Freshman Amanda Harrison and sophomore Kristy Loisel are top-five runners.
"This looks like one of my better years," coach Martin Goode said about his Howard boys team. "We have a good attitude, we're cohesive and we've learned how to run. We're training hard and improving, and will be competitive by the county championships."
Senior Martin Berlett, who ran a 4:32 mile in outdoor, is No. 1. Junior Jeff Minor, who also had a good outdoor season, is No. 2 and senior Pat Moulding is No. 3.
Senior John Corwin or sophomore Eric Nawrocki will be Nos. 4 and 5.
Senior Adam Lessey and junior Dave Patrick complete the top seven.
Howard, which has 26 boys, finished fifth in the county and eighth in the Class 3A state championships last season.
The top three girls -- freshman Cori Doseff, junior Karen Hill and sophomore Claire Cannon -- show potential.
Beyond them, Goode has junior Linda Larson, a Swedish exchange student, running No. 4, and first-year junior Andrea Kraljevic No. 5. Juniors Chau Lam and Sarah Brown, and freshman Kristen Stickles will try to score points.
Mount Hebron Vikings
The Vikings, sixth in the county, return senior Chris Williams (seventh county) as their main threat among 21 runners.
Junior first-year runner Yousef Khwaja is running No. 2 with junior Phil Folkemer No. 3 and senior Matt Sasser No. 4. Senior Steve Scott is No. 5.
Coach Craig Chasse's girls team (fifth county) is young but has 22 runners headed by senior Kathy Emerich. Sophomores Casey McCormick and Carey Zinkand and senior Anna Vernon are all running within 15 seconds of one another.
Senior All-County runner Heather Mancini (sixth county) is off to a slow start, but is expected to be a factor.
Oakland Mills Scorpions
The defending state Class 2A champion Scorpions graduated state champion Greg Curtis but return senior Steve Petro (second county, second state).
Petro, first-team All-Met, already this season has finished second at Griffin to Calvert Hall's Cory Smith, considered the top runner in the state. He won the Howard County Striders Invitational on Friday.
"He's what I call a pure runner because he also runs indoor,
outdoor and during the summer," said coach Steve Carnahan, whose team finished third in the county last season.
Senior Kevin Williams, a B team runner last season, has jumped to No. 2 on varsity. Junior Kevin Williams, seventh man last season, is No. 3. Senior Dean Menegay moves up to No. 4 and junior Chris Oxford is No. 5.
Seniors Sean Harbaugh, Mike Herdson and Mark Garafano are next in line.
Because Wilde Lake has moved up from Class 1A to Class 2A, the Wildecats represent a threat to Oakland Mills' record of 11 straight regional titles.
Despite its youth, the Scorpions girls team won its first county title last season and finished third in the state, but now faces some upheaval.
"We won county and region titles and appeared to have everyone coming back," Carnahan said. "But Murphy's Law has taken over."
Senior co-captain Erin Morrow (13th county) could not finish Griffin because of a sore knee. And junior All-County runner Dawn Strait (seventh county, 18th state) had a knee operation earlier this month.
For now, senior Rachel Nelson (ninth county, 17th state) is No. 1. Junior All-County performer Lauren Drake (fourth county, third state) is running No. 2.
Senior Liz Ball is No. 3 and junior Mindy Wiltshire No. 4. Senior Jessica Mathews is No. 5 with senior Jessica Ellerman No. 6 and junior Justine Lutterodt No. 7.
"We showed a lot of character last year, so we should be ready by counties," said Carnahan, who was the Baltimore Sun's Howard County Girls Coach of the Year.
Wilde Lake Wildecats
The Wildecats had not won a county championship since 1972 until they won last season. They went on to win the region and finish second in the Class 1A state meet.
The top three runners return from that team -- All-County senior nTC Faisal Hasan (third county, ninth state), All-County senior Marc Baron (ninth county, first region, 16th state) and senior Mike Brosenne (sixth county) who has improved his time by 30 seconds.
Senior Paul Daddio and sophomore Kurt Mueller complete the top five. The Wildecats have 40 on the team.
"Centennial looks like the top team, but we're within striking distance," said Charlie Shoemaker, The Baltimore Sun's Howard County Boys Coach of the Year.
The girls team finished second in the county after not having a complete team the year before. It was the best finish ever for a Wilde Lake girls team.
Four of the top six return, led by juniors Libby George (10th county) and Kelly Zimmerman (12th county), and sophomores Jodi Richmond and Krystn Peck.
The Wildecats will need her because sophomore Laura Gombert (eighth county) is out for the season with a knee injury.