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Defending cross country champion River Hill still a frontrunner

A River Hill cross country runner works during the opening day of tryouts this fall. The Hawks are coming off a 2014 season that saw both their boys and girls programs win state titles.
A River Hill cross country runner works during the opening day of tryouts this fall. The Hawks are coming off a 2014 season that saw both their boys and girls programs win state titles. (Photo by Matt Hazlett)

Fresh off capturing both the boys and girls cross country 3A state titles, River Hill once again will be the team favorites heading into 2015.

"It's a program that's had a lot of success since the school has been open," said Hawks coach Paul Hugus. "I did some research, and in the past 10 years there's been nine state titles won by teams in the county, six were runners up, with seven individual state champs. On the boys side we've had seven total state titles, with eight runners up in the last 10 years. So our county is really expecting to have great results, and I think a lot of other teams in the county really help us stay focused and motivated to bring the next batch of talent in."

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Despite losing the boys Runner of the Year in Chris Heydrick, and last year's first-team all-county members Mark Moody, Elizabeth Oldhouser and second-team all-county selection Allison Krein, River Hill has re-stocked heading into the season.

The team is expecting huge performances from 2014 first-team all-county performer Trent Rose and second-team all-county standout Anna Latzko. Rose is considered one of the best boys runners in the area, and is primed for a shot at the county title in his senior season for River Hill.

"The team we have, both boys and girls team, is set up for success. Looking at them (Sept. 5) at Clear Spring, I think we actually can potentially be better at this point of the year than we were last year," Hugus said. "We have one senior and the rest juniors, so they've been through this before and they're hungry and they're still kind of young.

"And on the girls side we lost three (runners) … we have a number of girls that can step into that fifth spot."

While the Hawks are reloading in terms of their runners, the biggest loss the team may be facing entering 2015 is the retirement of long-time coach Earl Lauer. He was named the Baltimore Sun's All-Metro girls cross country Coach of the Year in 2014.

"I know it's been definitely a transition for him," Hugus said. "He's told me that he's still very confident with having the program in my hands. We are feeling really good about having John DiFato on the staff as well. We're trying to keep (Earl) involved as much as we can as a volunteer."

Lauer coached and taught at Atholton for a number of years before heading over to River Hill in 1996. Oakland Mills coach Phil Lang remembers competing against a Lauer-coached Atholton squad back in 1985, where Lauer had developed the Raiders program into a perennial power much like River Hill is today.

"I was in the county myself and my senior year we beat Atholton for the county title, the regional title and the state title. I was quite excited and part of the reason for my excitement was because we beat Earl Lauer's team," Lang recalled. "Coach Lauer was the coach of Atholton High School back then and his teams have always been good. That's certainty a testament to him. He's going to put his teams near the top of the podium every year."

As for Lang, his team is primed to potentially produce two runners atop county podiums in 2015, in junior Joey Navorro and senior Brit Lang.

"We went (Sept. 5) to Brunswick and both Joey and Brit won, so that was a pretty good start for those two individuals," Phil Lang said. "Our boys team got third, that was kind of a sign of how I think we're going to do this year. We're pretty excited about those top level runners, one of the kids on either side that should be considered a potential county champ."

Brit Lang is by far the most polished runner — boys or girls — in the county. She not only is primed for a 2015 county title, but also to contend for a state championship, something she hasn't won since her freshman year.

"It's harder to tell in cross country, but she's definitely better and her track times are significantly better," Phil Lang said. "She's gotten down to a 5:01 mile and an 11 flat two-mile this past spring. And that is much better for sure than when she was a freshman. Her training is better (and) obviously experience is one of the greatest factors in sports. She's running really well (and) I'm pretty excited to see her run this fall."

Despite lofty expectations for her senior year, coaches Phil and Vicki Lang try not to put too much pressure on their daughter.

"I hope she doesn't feel too much pressure from me or from her mom. I know we certainly don't convey it that way," Phil Lang said. "But when we're with the team though it is a little different, we do let the kids know realistic expectations. I told Brit and Joey they should be right in the front of the pack … they have a shot to win and they need to know that. I hope that's not putting pressure on them, that's just being honest and letting them know how good they are and where they place amongst all these other awesome athletes."

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Navarro and Rose most likely are among the early boys favorites, but Howard's Nick Deamer and Mt. Hebron's Jake Edmonson also are primed to contend in 2015.

Deamer, a sophomore, is backed-up with a solid group around him, as teammates Ryan Gunderson, Rupam Mondal and Joey Lapointe all are seasoned runners who will most likely finish in the top tier by seasons end.

Edmonson is a 2014 first-team all-county selection, and — as he enters his junior season — will try improving on his ninth-place county finish and 12th place state finish from last year.

As for the girls side, Brit Lang is the obvious front-runner, but Centennial's Devin McIntyre has a shot to contend as well. A talented, multi-sport athlete, McIntyre was seventh at the 3A state meet last fall. Abigail Starks of Marriotts Ridge also looks promising to contend for a top three finish in counties, while Atholton's Celine Pisanic could be a dark-horse candidate to finish near the top as well.

"I think a top-five finish at the county and regional meets will be a great goal to achieve in her freshman campaign," said Raiders coach Ivan Alvardo. "But if I'm labeling anyone a (dark) horse to pull a few upsets along the way, I am happy to know that Pisanic will be sporting the Atholton green."

Alvardo called Pisanic, "race-ready," and said her work ethic will "rival the best seniors in the country." She's young, but as the season progresses the freshman phenom can only improve.

The Howard County Invitational meet, which is scheduled to feature each of the county's teams, will be held on Sept. 12 at Centennial. Leading up to that annual early-season race, here's a snapshot look at each of the county's teams:

Atholton

Boys to watch: Seniors Francisco Lefors, Jack Kavka and Daniel Smolyak; juniors Ben Rosicky and Marcus Osborn.

Girls to watch: Junior Fanny Yayi-Bondje; sophomores Abigail Slaughter, Emma O'Brien and Angela Wei; freshmen Celine Pisanic, Ashley Ballou and Alaina Bosmans.

What you need to know: Chris Clark's crew is led by junior Ben Rosicky, who trained hard over the summer to make sure he bests his 11th place finish in the county from a season ago. Francisco Lefors and Daniel Smolyak head into their senior year with big expectations. Clark believes both can contend for a top county finish.

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Senior Jack Kavka is in his first year for the Raiders, has experience as an 800-meter runner in track and clocked in at a time of 2:01. With his continuing development he can be a bright spot for Atholton toward the end of the season, possibly even keeping pace with Lefors and Smolyak. Clark thinks he can be a dark horse in counties and complemented the seniors "dangerous foot speed."

As for Ivan Alvardo's girls group, they return six runners from last year, but also field a young team that is made up of one junior, six sophomores and 11 freshmen. Among the young up-and-comers is freshman standout, Celine Pisanic. Although she is young, she is experienced and is primed to lead the Raiders in 2015. Alvardo predicts Pisanic will finish as one of the top runners in the county by season's end.

Sophomore Emma O'Brien and junior Fanny Yayi-Bondje round out Atholton's top three. O'Brien is a consistent force, ready to run fast and strong all season, while Yayi-Bondje is coming off serving as the third leg on the 4x800 state championship relay team on last spring's outdoor track team and is hoping to churn her success over to cross country.

Sophomores Angela Wei and Abigail Slaughter have both impressed Alvardo thus far, each coming off an injury-plagued freshmen campaigns. Freshmen Ashley Ballou and Alaina Bosmans also are primed for strong seasons.

Centennial

Boys to watch: Seniors Andrew Frommer and Jacob Riina; sophomore Daniel Gao.

Girls to watch: Seniors Ashley Mazer, Devin McIntyre and Jessica Jiang; junior Kara Taylor.

What you need to know: Al Dodds is fielding 71 runners on the boys side this year, 23 of which are freshmen and a few of them have shown promise as the first couple weeks have gotten underway.

Leading Dodds' group are seniors Andrew Frommer and Jacob Riina, along with sophomore Daniel Gao.

The Eagles goal is to finish in the top half of the county by the end of the year, and Dodds believes if they can master finishing races in a tight pack, and have their lead runner finish in the top 15 or 20, they will be successful during the season.

As for Kevin McCoy, he is fielding a large girls team this year, putting 51 runners on the roster, many of which are newcomers. McCoy is hoping someone new will emerge throughout the season, but thus far it has been the mainstay of runners leading the way, including seniors Ashley Mazer, Devin McIntyre, Jessica Jiang and junior Kara Taylor. McIntyre is considered by many as a great competitor for front-runner Brit Lang in the race for a county crown in 2015.

McCoy, though, doesn't want to look too far ahead.

"We want to improve every day and every meet," McCoy said. "We need to keep working everyday and take it one day at a time."

Glenelg

Boys to watch: Seniors Shaun Thompson, Toby Dilworth and Kyle Lewandowski; junior Garrett Carroll; sophomores Nick Preece, Cole Lahmann, Cole Dwiggins and Nate Brewer.

Girls to watch: Senior Abby Snellman; juniors Sydney O'Rourke, Cara Nardone and Ellen Sawitzki; sophomore Molly Swartz; freshmen Corynne Wolven and Carolyn Keating.

What you need to know: There is plenty of new blood for coaches Roger Volrath and Philip Johnson's team this year. For the boys, sophomores Nick Preece, Cole Lahmann, Cole Dwiggins and Nate Brewer have contended for the top seven best times for the Gladiators thus far and hope to keep improving as the season goes on.

Upperclassmen include seniors Shaun Thompson, Toby Dilworth and Kyle Lewandowski, while Mt. Airy Christian Academy transfer Garrett Carroll will also be one of Glenelg's top male runners this fall as a junior.

As for the girls, freshmen Corynne Wolven and Carolyn Keating have jumped out as two of the top seven girl runners for the Gladiators. Glenelg graduated its only 2014 all-county selection, in second-teamer Julia Nardone and have no seniors that finished in the top seven times, but have an abundance of youth. Juniors Cara Nardone, Sydney O'Rourke and Ellen Sawitzki, along with sophomore Molly Swartz, are all strong.

"We have good returning runners and a lot of promising new members, so we will be doing the best we can," Volrath said.

Hammond

Boys to watch: Seniors Josh Sanchez, Nate Palmer and Jonathan Gorel.

Girls to watch: Junior Emma Delinger; sophomore Polina Sobil.

What you need to know: The Golden Bears are fielding their largest team in awhile, as they have 30 runners heading into 2015. Last year they didn't have enough to qualify for a team score on the girls side, but this year they just make the mark at seven runners.

Emma Delinger is coach Kim Williams top runner, and she expects the junior to crack the top 20 in the county this season. Sophomore Polina Sobil comes in as Williams' second best finisher. The first-year runner has no experience in long-distance running, but has shown great potential in the sport. Williams said Sobil still needs work on her speed and technique, but has shown great promise thus far.

As for the boys, senior Josh Sanchez will be Hammond's top runner, despite being his first year on the team. Sanchez is a hurdler during track season and is getting his first taste of long distance running, but Williams believes he can crack the top-20 by season's end. Four-year varsity runners Nate Palmer and Jonathan Gorel round out the top three for the Golden Bears.

"(We have) 30 runners combined with boys and girls. It is the largest team fielded in a long time," Williams said. "We are like a family. They're really close because we are so small."

Howard

Boys to watch: Seniors Rupam Mondal, Joey Lapointe and Brian Goulet; juniors Erik Jenks and Ryan Gunderson; sophomores Nick Deamer and Dennis Danieli.

Girls to watch: Juniors Emily Hawkins and Courtney Mann; junior Alexandra Barton.

What you need to know: On the boys side, Zack Dickerson fields a talented group that had third place finishes at Counties and 4A Regionals, followed by an 11th place finish at states a season ago.

Heading into 2015, sophomore Nick Deamer, junior Ryan Gunderson and senior Rupam Mondal will lead the Lions, as they came into preseason in excellent shape according to Dickerson. They have the abilities to contend with the top runners in the county. Junior Erik Jenks, sophomore Dennis Danieli and senior Brian Goulet are all first-year runners, but have impressed to open the season and should make an immediate impact once the meets get going.

As for Mathew Stump and the Howard girls, after graduating first-team all-county Gabby Rayner, the Lions are led by juniors Emily Hawkins and Courtney Mann. Both run consistently during practices and are on pace to be Howard's top two female runners. First-year varsity member Alexandra Barton has impressed Stump and his staff, as he expects the junior to contend as one of the Lions top four runners in 2015.

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"Success will be determined on having a tight pack of runners who can remain healthy and determined all season long," Stump said. "This is a good team this year that seems to work together and hold each other accountable."

Long Reach

Boys to watch: Junior Andrew Moulprie; sophomore Andrew Werneth.

Girls to watch: Sophomores Amanda Bonner, Ava Kelly and Micah Thomas; freshman Natalia Pinet.

What you need to know: Long Reach coach Gregory Johnson returns at the helm of the boys team after a nine-year hiatus coaching at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt. Johnson's group doesn't hold a single senior on the roster, but are led by promising junior Andrew Moulprie and sophomore Andrew Werneth. Johnson praised both Moulprie and Werneth's work ethic, along with the amount of "practice and preparation" they've done "day in and day out."

The goal this season for the Lightning is qualifying for states. Although Johnson recognizes it is a lofty goal, he believes baring no injuries and if the work ethic continues, it is not unrealistic.

On the girls side, Long Reach is extremely young, made up of all underclassmen. The team is fielding over 13 runners in 2015, though, which is one of the largest rosters Long Reach has had in the past few years. Coach Rosalind Sheppard acknowledged the promise that sophomores Amanda Bonner, Ava Kelly, Micah Thomas and freshman Natalia Pinet have heading into 2015. Pinet in her first year on the team has impressed coaches thus far. The goal for the Lightning is to finish in the top half of the county and make a run at qualifying for states.

Marriotts Ridge

Boys to watch: Seniors Ibrihim Jirdeh, Jacob Hejeebu and Tim Beschner; sophomores Jared Kagel, David Zhang, Scott Malloy and Rickey Farrell.

Girls to watch: Senior Abigail Starks.

What you need to know: Coach Richard Malt has been out of the cross country circuit for a bit, but is excited to see what his group brings into 2015. The senior class of Ibrihim Jirdeh, Jacob Hejeebu and Tim Beschner are the leaders, however it is the sophomore contingent of Jared Kagel, David Zhang, Scott Malloy and Ricky Farrell that he has been most impressed with. They've all competed with the rest of the upperclassmen.

"We are certainly rebuilding after the past two years," Malt said. "We have a large ninth and 10th grade class. Both are working hard to compete with the older boys. Our goals, while somewhat generic, will be to work hard, and race well. We spend time focusing on pack running."

Abigail Starks will lead the girls team, as the senior has improved since her freshman season, knocking 22 seconds off her three-mile time last season. She will likely try shedding some more seconds off and contend as one of the top female runners heading into 2015.

Mt. Hebron

Boys to watch: Seniors Abraham Samuel, Greg Bisant and Josh Risinger; juniors Jake Edmondson, Jimmy Hayden and Tim Packard; sophomore Michael Schlining.

Girls to watch: Sophomores Lexie Banham and Ellie Gustafson.

What you need to know: Coach Todd DeCrispino's boys look solid in 2015, as Mt. Hebron returns nearly the entire lineup from a season ago that finished third in counties, fourth in regionals and third at states.

Junior Jake Edmondson finished ninth in the county and 12th in the state last season, resulting in a first-team all-county selection. He leads the Vikings heading into 2015. Senior Greg Bisant also is returning, placing 25th in counties and 39th in states last season, while fellow seniors Abraham Samuel, Josh Risinger and junior Jimmy Hayden all return to round out the top runners for the Vikings. Sophomore Michael Schlining and junior Tim Packard are in their first year with the team and are two to keep an eye out for once the season begins.

As for Paul Ulrich and his group, they'll be led by sophomores Lexie Banham and Ellie Gustafson, both who he thinks have the potential to finish in the top 15 in the county. Gustafson was at the end of the pack to start last season, but by season's end was Ulrich's second girl in the state meet. He is hoping for someone else on the roster to do the same in 2015. Mt. Hebron has a good balance of under and upper classmen this season, but its top seven runners include four sophomores. They lost their only all-county selection, second-teamer Eileen Zohorsky to graduation, so the Vikings will see the team rejuvenate with youth this season.

Oakland Mills

Boys to watch: Senior Kelsey White; juniors Joey Navarro and Gavin Kohn; sophomore Anders Chattin; freshman Fredrick Eilnad II.

Girls to watch: Seniors Brit Lang and Oriana Ovide; sophomore Grace Chaverini.

What you need to know: Coaches Vicki and Phil Lang have two runners that are in contention for the county title this year, in senior Brit Lang and junior Joey Navarro. Both earned first-team all-county awards in 2014. Brit Lang is almost a sure lock to be a top competitor for the county crown if she stays healthy, along with a possible second state title. The Scorpions did move from the 2A South Region to 2A West Region in 2015, which is where the defending boys region champion resides and will provide some stiff competition. Oakland Mills is shooting for a top three finish at Regionals for the boys, while the girls are shooting for a top-six finish.

Of course staying healthy is always on every teams agenda, but certainly for the Scorpions who field a smaller group this upcoming year. Other notables are senior Oriana Ovide and sophomore Grace Chaverini on the girls side, while senior Kelsey White, junior Gavin Kohn and sophomore Anders Chattin should all be in the top tier of runners for the Scorpions. Freshman Frederick Eilnad II has impressed in his first letter year and should also emerge as one of Oakland Mills' top performers.

Reservoir

Boys to watch: Juniors William Christian and Jake Carson; sophomores Kai Muniz and Alvaro Hernandez; freshman Noah Kim.

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Girls to watch: Juniors Heather Ailinger, Cece Wood, Ananya Mathur, Mikayla Kantar and Lilly LaFemina.

What you need to know: Reservoir coach Phil Rogers has high hopes for the Gators in 2015. Although he does not have any senior talent at the top of his roster, junior William Christian and Kai Muniz have the ability to finish in the top 15 in the county. Rogers said Jake Carson has improved immensely since practices have begun, cutting time off his team trials. Sophomore Alavaro Hernandez has shown signs of potential, shedding three minutes from his two-mile time trial, earning himself his first ever start as a varsity runner. Freshman Noah Kim comes in with some racing experience so he should be another bright young spot for the Gators.

Over on the girls side, juniors Cece Wood and Ananya Mathur both are coming off stellar outdoor track seasons and kept progressing over the summer. Rogers believes both have the potential to have top 20 finishes in the county this season. A newcomer to watch out for is Mikayla Kantar, who has surprised not only Rogers and the coaching staff, but also the entire team with her abilities in her first year on the squad. Junior Lily LaFemina has improved also, earning her first varsity spot this season, as she also improved on her two-mile time trial from last year.

"The plan involves quality training with miles and intensity, but also recovery and nutrition," explained Rogers. "I am trying to instill in them that recovery and rest is just as important as the running."

River Hill

Boys to watch: Senior Trent Rose; juniors Rahul Reddy, Drew Meininger, Jake Parker, Ben Oldhouser and Kevin Reynolds; sophomore Vivek Nadimpalli.

Girls to watch: Seniors Eileen Ying, Anna Latzko, and Tiffany Wang; juniors Colleen Krein, Jenn Horner and Owen Dannelly; sophomore Jasmine Tiamfook.

What you need to know: The Hawks are coming off boys and girls county, region and state championships, and are primed to contend for another county title in 2015. River Hill lost boys Runner of the Year Chris Heydrick and 2014 first-team all-county selection Mark Moody to graduation, but do return senior Trent Rose. He earned a first-team all-county honor last year and will be a leader along with second-team all-county runner Rahul Reddy, who is back for his junior year campaign. Although the Hawks are relatively young — most of their talent lies in their junior class — the goal is still to repeat as county, region and state champs for 2015. The key for coach Paul Hugus' group is to stay healthy and have some of his junior runners such as Reddy, Drew Meininger, Jake Parker and Ben Oldhouser excel during championship meets.

As for the girls side, although River Hill graduated first-team all-county standout Elizabeth Oldhouser and second-team all-county performer Allison Krein, the core of last year's championship team is back. Included in the returners are 2014 second-team all-county members, Owen Dannelly and Anna Latzko. Senior Tiffany Wang, sophomore Jasmine Tiamfook and juniors Jenn Horner and Colleen Krein are all runners to keep an eye on. Hugus acknowledged the improvement each member of that group has made from a season ago.

Wilde Lake

Boys to watch: Senior Hunter Kahn; juniors Jonathan Sussman and Allen Severson

Girls to watch: Seniors Julia Orloff, Elise McGinnis and Alexis Carroll; sophomore Sarah Spall.

What you need to know: Wilde Lake graduated its two top runners from a season ago — first-team all-county runner David Eisenhuer and second-team all-county performer Eric Smart. For 2015, the Wildecats are led by senior Hunter Kahn, who should finish as one of the top runners in the county. Other notables for the boys are juniors Jonathan Sussman and Allen Severson.

As for the girls, all of the Wildecats top runners — seniors Julia Orloff, Elise McGinnis, Alexis Carroll and sophomore Sarah Spall — could finish in the top 25 in the county. According to coach Chris Brewington, Spall has been a "pleasant surprise" thus far, acknowledging all the work she put in during indoor and outdoor track to go along with the progress she has made over the summer.

"The biggest determinant for the team will be avoiding getting complacent early on. If we have a few good finishes early in season, not letting that go to our heads and keep working as if we are a team still trying to crack the top," Brewington said. "The goal for the team is always to try and compete for a title, but we think we can be in the top three this year for sure."

Glenelg Country

Boys to watch: Seniors Tim Davis and Andrew Schreffler; junior Brian Hersey.

Girls to watch: Seniors Maddie Miller and Taylor O'Connell; junior Emma Ward.

What you need to know: The Dragons are looking to be competitive in the MIAA B conference in 2015 on the boys team. And, on the girls side, Glenelg Country has its sights set on winning a IAAM C conference championship.

"The goals this year are to improve upon last year and continue the winning traditions at GCS," said Glenelg Country co-coach Brian Bonn. "Working together as a team and helping out the younger, less experienced runners through the rigors of the season will be the key to our continued success."

Seniors Tim Davis and Andrew Schreffler lead the boys, while Maddie Miller and Taylor O'Connell will anchor the girls side. Both Brian Hersey and Emma Ward have impressed early on and should be a big part of the Dragons squad once the season gets going.

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