The tag line on River Hill coach Earl Lauer's email sums up the essence of cross country. "Individuals win races, teams win championships," it says.
Looking at the individuals first, Atholton's Gary Smolyak, who won the county title a year ago, is back as is Wilde Lake's Tim Virostek, who was named Runner of the Year last fall. Howard's Danny Rau is positioned to challenge both.
On the girls' side, expect Glenelg sophomore Julia Nardone, all-county first team as a freshman, and Mt. Hebron senior Rachel Yep to have many exciting races this year. River Hill's Angelica Yi will be up near the front, too.
Glenelg Country's Hannah Mansbach is one of the top runners in the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland.
River Hill and Reservoir are considered to be the top boys' teams in the county. On the girls' side, it's River Hill, Reservoir, Mt. Hebron and Centennial.
Howard County's public schools go head-to-head for the first time this season at the Howard County Invitational, which will be held Friday, Sept. 7 at Centennial High School. The first race goes off at 3:30 p.m.
Take your mark!
As the season begins, here's how the teams look and what invitationals they will be running in addition to the Howard County Invitational.
Boys to watch: Senior Gary Smolyak; juniors Eddie Quinn, Justin Spoon and Scott Zimmerman; sophomore Timmy Bernard.
Girls to watch: Seniors Katie Pelikan, Jessica Duggan and Katie Smith; juniors Jill Greenwald and Madison Rogers; sophomores Casey Flynn and Tasha Powers.
The scoop: If there's strength in numbers, then Atholton has it with 110 runners, including 36 girls.
"They are a very cohesive group," said coach Beth DeFrances of her boys' squad. "They are working well together and really encouraging the younger runners."
Smolyak, who won the individual title at the county championship, is back to defend his crown.
How the team stacks up will depend on closing the gap between its top runners.
DeFrances is expecting a better season than a year ago when Atholton finished eighth in the county.
The Raiders girls team also has higher expectations.
"Our underclassmen did most of our scoring last year so we are hoping that, as long as we stay healthy, we can place very high in our meets," said girls coach Wendell Thomas. "We have strength in our numbers with a lot of girls working very hard to break into the varsity spots."
Invitationals: Track N Trail (Elkton), Doc Jones (Annapolis), Bull Run (Hereford) and Scorpion Crawl (Oakland Mills).
Boys to watch: Seniors Adam Sachs, Eric Segev and Danny Schofield; juniors Alec Font, Andrew Durkee and Griffin Riddler.
Girls to watch: Juniors Alyssa Taylor and Kari Dunagan; sophomore Shreya Nalubola; freshmen Devin McIntyre and Ally Driscoll.
The scoop: Centennial's boys look to be much improved over the last few seasons. "I believe we will finish high in invitationals and should be in the top four in the county," said coach Al Dodds.
He has 75 boys on the team and many are new runners. "A few are varsity-caliber runners without varsity experience," Dodds said. Some of the freshmen have potential, he added.
The Eagles are working on getting a better start and staying in a tighter pack through the first half of the race. "The time spread from our No. 1 through No. 7 will be much closer this season," Dodds said.
The Centennial girls are fielding a team of 40 that is an experienced group. Most were on varsity either last year or the past two years.
"We have a deep team," said coach Kevin McCoy. "There are nine girls that are potential varsity runners."
McCoy said his team is a "very driven group that has a lot of potential."
Look for the Centennial girls to be much improved from last year.
Invitationals: Interstate (Clear Spring), Bull Run, Barnhart (Dulaney), Doc Jones and Georgetown Prep.
Boys to watch:
Seniors Danny Facchina and Dylan McDaniel; junior Sural Ranamukhaarachchi; sophomore Garrett Birsa; freshman Toby Dilworth.
Girls to watch: Seniors Demi Fortsen and Hannah Cash; juniors Julianna Boswell and Samantha Biegel; sophomore Julia Nardone.
The scoop: The season is just starting, but the Gladiators are already pointing toward November.
"Our main goal is to continue our tradition of both teams qualifying for states and then for each individual to run their best race of the season at states," said coach Steve Ruckert.
"The top five on the girls' team are all returning letter winners. The boys' strength is their tremendous depth, which we hope will have a trickle down effect on the top five positions," Ruckert said. Officially, he's the girls coach, but Glenelg goes with a team-coaching method. Phil Johnson and Roger Volrath are the Gladiators' other two coaches.
There are 76 runners on the team (27 girls and 49 boys).
Invitationals: Interstate, Gunpowder (North Harford), Prince George's Invitational and Southern Bulldog.
Boy to watch: Senior Cole Rosenberg.
Girl to watch: to be determined.
The scoop: Hammond only has 20 runners on the entire team. On the positive side, eight of them are girls, which is the most the Golden Bears have had in a long time.
"Unfortunately, only three of them are returning runners, the other five are first-year runners," said coach Jim Gross.
There are four or five returners on the boys' side. Rosenberg will be the top runner, but cross country is what he does to get in shape for track where his specialty is the 800-meters.
"I'm just looking for improvement each and every race," Gross said. "It will be a challenging season, especially for the seven freshmen on the team."
Gross has the right philosophy for his young team: an obstacle in life is anything that you see or do when you take your eyes off of your goals.
Invitationals: South Carroll, Bull Run, Crossfire (Liberty) and Georgetown Prep.
Boys to watch: Senior Danny Rau; juniors Luke Filar, Evan Moore and Tyler Lewis; sophomores Ray Smith, Ryan Land, Nolan Dunnigan, Ian Kappey, Devin Rowell.
Girls to watch: Senior Caroline Haden; junior Melissa Pratt; sophomores Nupur Hegde and Winnie Tsao.
The scoop: With 75 runners, Howard is fielding its largest boys' team ever. "Our team's strength this season is its incredible natural talent, youth and the potential for growth coupled with an outstanding lead runner in Danny Rau," said coach Nathan Ferrell.
Rau, who finished seventh in the county last year, is the only senior on the squad.
His efforts will be bolstered by those of Filar and the sophomore pack of Smith, Land, Dunnigan and Kappey, among others.
"We have been working to improve on endurance and focus for all of our runners while adhering to better race strategy for team finishes," Ferrell said. "We are looking to finish top three in the county and region. We hope to qualify for states, and Danny Rau is looking like he will have an outstanding individual finish in the field."
The Lions lost three of their top seven girls from last year so they are working on team cohesiveness and pack running.
"We have a large amount of girls, which helps to make practice fun and competitive. We also have a lot of new runners who are very eager to run in races," said coach Matt Stump. He describes his 49-member team as energetic and new.
"We have a lot of first-year runners who are learning from our veteran leaders. I think we will be a competitive team this year."
Invitationals: Bull Run, Cavalier (South Carroll) and Scorpion Crawl.
Boys to watch: Seniors Chris Moran, Ralph Erickson and Brian Samples.
Girls to watch: Senior Hyujae Kim; sophomores Emily Park and Jess Hsu.
The scoop: The Lightning boys, 22 strong, expect great leadership from their three seniors. All are veteran runners and will be able to mentor the team's newcomers. That will be important as Long Reach tries to replace three runners from last year's varsity.
"We're looking to some newcomers to step up," said coach Jessica Reitz Murphy.
The Long Reach girls will also be building. The 11 runners nearly double the size of last year's team. In years past, Long Reach has struggled to field a full girls team.
"We've really been trying to grow the (girls) team," Murphy said. "There are a lot of newcomers, all of whom are really high energy. The returners are sharing their wisdom; we're really looking forward to a great season."
Invitationals: Scorpion Crawl and Bull Run.
Boys to watch: Seniors Gulraize Khan, Ryan Hermstein and Daniel Vogel; juniors Michael Bernal, Silas Buck and Clay Cochran.
Girls to watch: Seniors Aby Whiting and Jackie Berges; juniors Bailey Merrill, Caroline Johnson and Katie Algair; freshman Abigail Starks.
The scoop: Almost all of the boys from last year's Marriotts Ridge team are back and they are ready to get to work. All 58 who came out for this year's team made the time qualification of 30 minutes for a 5k run.
The top 12-15 runners on the Mustangs' squad put in their summer miles.
"This should create some great inter-squad competition. Nothing is set in stone, so each runner will have to compete for his spot on the varsity squad," said boys coach Richard Malt. "This year, our focus will be to run more as a team/pack while continually improving our times."
Hermstein, a captain, may have set the tone for the Mustangs' season when he quoted Joe Newton, a legendary Illinois high school cross country coach. "Your mind can make you train, your body can create power, but only your heart can make you a champion."
With 26 runners, the Mustang girls have depth as well as youth.
"The team this year is very young. A lot of freshmen could be in our top seven by the end of the season," said coach Jason Conley. Because of the younger athletes, Conley expects his squad to start slowly and come on strong.
Invitationals: South Carroll, Southern Bulldog, Scorpion Crawl and Bull Run.
Boys to watch: Seniors Andy DeLaitsch, Karl Schmidt and Michael Smith; junior Ben Weinstein; freshman Corey Hamilton.
Girls to watch: Seniors Rachel Yep, Chelsea Vane and Marissa Lechmann; junior Jasmine Johnson; sophomores Mareli Aguiniga and Karina Aquiahuati; freshman Cassandra Meyers.
The scoop: There are 54 boys on the Mt. Hebron team and 20 are freshmen, which bodes well for the future.
"We are very excited about the team," said coach Todd DeCrispino. "We have a good mix of seniors through freshmen. We should be a very competitive team throughout the season."
Paul Ulrich's girls team is headed up by Yep, who is one of the county's best runners. The Vikings' top three athletes have been in the varsity top five their entire high school careers.
According to Ulrich, team members believe in each other and think of the 20-member team as a family.
"The team is an outstanding group of young student-athletes dedicated to being competitive each meet and improving each time they race," he said.
Invitationals: Interstate Classic, South Carroll, Bull Run, Gunpowder Falls and Scorpion Crawl.
Boys to watch: Seniors Cameron Bowling, Kevin O'Hara and Sam Andrews; juniors Tom Brumbaugh, Connor Holley and Paul Kirk-Davidoff.
Girls to watch: Seniors Alyssa Hemler, Sarah Brand and Lara Celtnieks; junior Mackenzie Snyder; freshman Brit Lang.
The scoop: Small but mighty might define the Oakland Mills team, which has just 20 boys and 11 girls.
According to coach Phil Lang, the team's strength is its experience. Andrews, one of last season's top runners, is back, but his participation may be limited by commitments to the school's drama department.
"The boys look to be a close and deep group. The girls' team looks to be real strong upfront," Lang said.
Brit Lang, the coach's daughter, has years of running experience and will boost the girls squad.
A legitimate goal for both of the Scorpions teams is a top five finish at the state meet.
Invitationals: Adidas Cross Country Challenge (North Carolina), Bull Run and Scorpion Crawl.
Boys to watch: Seniors Adam Gartrell and Teddy LaFemina; junior Owen Pochettino.
Girls to watch: Seniors Cindy Alm and Amy Oliver; juniors Katie Wilson and Karli Smiraglia.
The scoop: The Gators' top three boys are very strong. If the next three or four runners have a good season, then Reservoir will be capable of surprising teams.
The Reservoir girls have a very good returning team. "Despite some injuries, the girls have depth and depth out to eight or nine runners," said coach Phil Rogers.
Overall, according to Rogers, Reservoir is working on strength and hills.
"I am definitely pushing this year's cross country team harder than I have pushed other teams in the past. I think they are ready for the challenge and thus far they have done nothing but impress me," Rogers said.
The Gators have 55 runners this fall.
Inivtationals: Adidas Cross Country Challenge, Bull Run, Southern Bulldog and Doc Jones.
Boys to watch: Seniors Sean Salisbury and Kaede Johnson; juniors Terry Tossman and Dominic Mandile; sophomore Chris Heydrick.
Girls to watch: Seniors Angelica Yi and Kelly Maloney; junior Rebecca Andersen; sophomores Allison Krein, Courtney Colosimo and Elizabeth Oldhouser; freshman Eileen Ying.
The scoop: "We have a large dedicated group of runners who will push each other to be the best that they can be," said River Hill boys coach Paul Hugus. "We are a fairly young team as well, so if we are able to get some good runners established we should be able to be even better in the next few years."
River Hill's boys won the county title last year and would like to repeat. "If we can get the spread from 1-5 to be even smaller, we will be very competitive at meets," Hugus said.
He has 55 runners on his team.
The River Hill girls have depth but need to work on the pack mentality.
There are 35 girls on the squad. Yi finished 13th in the state last fall.
"It's a good mixture of youth and experience," said girls coach Earl Lauer of his 35-runner squad, which is the defending county champion.
Invitationals: Interstate, William & Mary, Bull Run, Frank Keyser (Boonesboro) and Scorpion Crawl.
Boys to watch: Seniors Tim Virostek, Anthony Rizzi and David Smart; sophomores Joseph Keating, Jared Golian, Matt Aubin and Eric Smart.
Girls to watch: Juniors Kate McHale, Ilana Malkin and Maranda Judd; sophomore Marina Chang; freshmen Brenda Rosas and Julia Orloff.
The scoop: Although Virostek, last year's Runner of the Year, returns, the Wilde Lake boys team took a graduation hit, losing four of its top seven runners. There are 16 boys out for this year's team. Of the newcomers, six are freshmen and two are juniors.
"We will obviously be led by Tim Virostek and our challenge is to strengthen our 2-7 runners to a higher competitive level," said boys coach Whitty Bass.
The Wilde Lake girls' team has a nice balance of new runners that have potential to go along with the seasoned veterans.
"We have a young team (only one senior) but I believe we will have more depth than we did last year," said coach Charlie Shoemaker.
He has 24 on his squad.
Invitationals: Bull Run and Gunpowder.
Glenelg Country School
Boys to watch: Senior Isaiah Washington; juniors Joey Pickens, Ben Murphy, Justin Swaim and Drew Davis; sophomore Patrick Grady.
Girls to watch: Seniors Hannah Mansbach and Emily Walsh; junior Caroline Sun; freshmen Maddie Miller and Elena Moncada.
The scoop: The Glenelg Country boys participate in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association B Conference, which has 13 teams. Pickens, Murphy and Swaim will anchor the Dragons' 30-runner boys' squad.
Mansbach is the top girls runner and one of the best in the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland C Conference. She won her race at the Georgetown Prep Invitational last year.
"We have a committed group who love running and we're strong up front," said Scott Doughty. He does double duty as both the boys' and girls' coach.
"The boys are strong at 1-2-3, but we're waiting to see who will step up at four through seven. The girls are strong at 1-2 and looking for support from the newer girls," Doughty said.