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Baltimore Sun girls cross country preview: Storylines, players to watch and top 15 teams heading into 2021 season

Here’s what you need to know for the 2021 high school girls cross country season in the Baltimore area:

Storylines to watch

How will the COVID-created layoff affect teams around the region?

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A tumultuous 2020-21 school year canceled much of a cross country-only season, as no private school competitions took place and some public schools had a shortened season in the spring. The lack of a true season and the unknown of how runners will rebound from the layoff will make it difficult to surmise the top teams in the area initially.

Members of the Crofton High cross country team practice on Feb. 17.
Members of the Crofton High cross country team practice on Feb. 17. (Paul W. Gillespie/Capital Gazette)

Can Crofton continue to ascend in its first true cross country season?

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It didn’t take long for the first-year school to impress. The outdoor track and field team won the 2A South region, outpacing Westlake, 148-103, for the school’s first banner. The program has pooled a lot of runners formerly destined for Arundel or South River and will look to compete in a loaded Class 3A.

Speaking of 3A …

The question is: can anyone stop Northern-Calvert? The Patriots have won the past four 3A state cross country championships, but Bel Air might be closing in. The Bobcats lost to Northern by only 12 points in 2018 and by a mere four points in 2019 and have a dynamic duo in Mackenzie Morrison and Elizabeth Pickett at the top that might push them over the top. Add Howard to the mix — the Lions have dropped from 4A to 3A — and it creates one of the most competitive classes in recent memory.

Will Hereford reassert its dominance in 2A?

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The Bulls finished outside the top two at the state championship meet for only the second time since 2002, the last being in 2012 when they were in Class 3A. They have a strong core of runners who will push to return to the podium.

Watch Mount de Sales’ Juliette Whittaker while you can.

The senior competed in the U.S. Olympic trials in June, making it to the semifinals in the 800-meter run before finishing 10th. She might end up going down as the best track athlete in Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland history. She will look to win a third and final A Conference title before hitting the track to add to her eight combined indoor and outdoor IAAM career victories.

Runners to watch

Howard's Nimrit Ahuja leads a strong core of returners for the top-ranked Lions, who have dropped from Class 4A to 3A this season.
Howard's Nimrit Ahuja leads a strong core of returners for the top-ranked Lions, who have dropped from Class 4A to 3A this season. (Brian Krista/Baltimore Sun Media)

Nimrit Ahuja, Howard, senior

Ahuja will lead a talented group of runners and is coming off an outdoor track season in which she captured 4A East region titles in the 800 and 1,600 and finished second at the 4A state meet in the 1,600, when she ran the state’s second fastest time (4:58.43).

Anna Albergo, Dulaney, senior

Albergo was third at the most recent Baltimore County cross country championships and should contend for the title this season. She finished second at the 4A North region championships in the 3,200 and third in the 1,600.

Isabelle Aldana, Towson, junior

After top-seven finishes as a freshman at the Baltimore County and 3A North region cross country championships in 2019, Aldana hopes to contend for the county title in what will be a competitive race. She won the 3A North Section I championship in the 1,600 and finished third at the 3A North region championship this spring.

Mollie Fenn, Broadneck, senior

The senior burst onto the scene last spring on the track, capturing the 4A East Section II and 4A East region championship in the 3,200. She finished second at the 4A state meet, running an 11:12.70 that was the seventh best time in the state for 2021.

Manchester Valley junior Rubie Goffena was the Carroll County Times girls cross country Runner of the Year in the spring of 2021.
Manchester Valley junior Rubie Goffena was the Carroll County Times girls cross country Runner of the Year in the spring of 2021. (Dylan Slagle/Carroll County Times)

Rubie Goffena, Manchester Valley, senior

Goffena won all six cross country races she ran last season, including the Carroll County championships. She emerged victorious at the 3A East region championships in the 1,600 and 3,200 and went on to win a state title in the 1,600. Her personal-bests of 4:59.63 in the 1,600 and 11:04.05 in the 3,200 were the third best times in the state for each event.

Mackenzie Morrison, Bel Air, senior

Morrison is the defending Upper Chesapeake Bay Athletic Conference and 3A North region champion in cross country and finished fourth at the 3A state championships in 2019.

Bel Air teammates Elizabeth Pickett, left, and Mackenzie Morrison near the finish line together in the MPSSAA Class 3A cross country state championship meet at Hereford in 2019.
Bel Air teammates Elizabeth Pickett, left, and Mackenzie Morrison near the finish line together in the MPSSAA Class 3A cross country state championship meet at Hereford in 2019. (Brian Krista/Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Elizabeth Pickett, Bel Air, senior

After top-five finishes at the 2019 Upper Chesapeake Bay Athletic Conference and 3A North region cross country championships, Pickett went on to finish fifth at the 3A state meet and won the 3A state championship in the 3,200 in June. Her time of 10:43.11 was the best in the state.

Hannah Schwab, Howard, senior

Schwab is the top returner from the spring’s Howard County cross country championships, where she finished fifth. She went on to finish second at the 4A East region championships in the 3,200 and third at the 4A state meet, running the state’s 10th best time of the year.

Megan Warrenfeltz, Hereford, junior

Warrenfeltz finished third at the Baltimore County cross country championships as a freshman and ran the opening leg of the 3A North region-winning 3,200 relay team during the outdoor track season in the spring.

Juliette Whittaker, Mount de Sales, senior

Although there were no championship races for cross country or track last season in the IAAM, Whittaker heads into her final season as a two-time defending A Conference champion in cross country and made noise on the national scene this June by competing in the 800 at the U.S. Olympic trials.

Preseason top 15 teams

1. Howard

Coach: Zack Dickerson

Outlook: The Lions are the defending 4A state champions and also won the Howard County, 4A East region and 4A state championship in the spring on the outdoor track, but they won’t be able to defend those titles as they have dropped to Class 3A. With a strong core led by Nimrit Ahuja and Hannah Schwab, Howard will be a solid contender, no matter which classification it competes in.

Howard's girls cross country team poses with the county championship trophy at Centennial on April 10.
Howard's girls cross country team poses with the county championship trophy at Centennial on April 10. (Photo courtesy of Israel Carunungan)

2. Liberty

Coach: Danny Jones

Outlook: The Lions are the reigning 2A state champions and took top honors at the Carroll County championships in April, edging South Carroll by one point. Sophomores Izzy and Julia Lucas will look to build on top-eight finishes as freshmen during the spring’s unique season.

3. Bel Air

Coach: Andi Gwin

Outlook: The Bobcats are seeking the school’s first state championship in cross country after five second-place finishes, including the last two behind Northern-Calvert. Seniors Mackenzie Morrison and Elizabeth Pickett both finished in the top five at the 3A state championship meet as sophomores when they finished second by four points.

4. Dulaney

Coach: Eric Walz

Outlook: The Lions are the reigning Baltimore County champions and are hoping to be in the mix for the school’s eighth state title in 4A, the last coming in 2001. Anna Albergo leads a strong core of seniors that is ready to finish strong.

5. Hereford

Coach: Brad Duvall

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Outlook: The Bulls are loaded to make a run at a 13th state title this season after missing out on a top-two finish for only the second time in 19 years in 2019. With a deep squad led by Megan Warrenfeltz and Estelle Snider, Hereford should be a solid contender for a county, region and state championship.

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6. Severna Park

Coach: Josh Alcombright

Outlook: The Falcons finished second to Howard at the 2019 4A state championship meet and will look to develop into a state title contender behind their young and talented runners, led by Cami Glebocki.

7. Maryvale Prep

Coach: Jason Miller

Outlook: The Lions are expected to return five of their top seven runners from the team that captured the IAAM A Conference championship in 2019, including Mackenzie Saneman, Anna Atticks and Min Joo Kim. They have solid depth from runners who performed well during the shortened outdoor track season in the spring.

8. Towson

Coach: Gilbert Strange

Outlook: The Generals will look to push Dulaney and Hereford for the Baltimore County title and Northern-Calvert, Bel Air and Howard at the 3A state meet. A solid core of juniors and seniors, led by county championship contender Isabelle Aldana, should put Towson within striking distance in all competitions.

9. South Carroll

Coach: Joseph Murray

Outlook: The Cavaliers finished second during April’s Carroll Country cross country championships, just one point behind champion Liberty. They will need an injection of young talent to emerge to be competitive after graduating all of their top five runners from last season.

10. Notre Dame Prep

Coach: Marshall Edrington

Outlook: The Blazers finished second to Maryvale Prep at the IAAM A Conference championships in 2019. They return three runners who finished in the top 13 at that meet, including senior Leah Cirincione and juniors Isabella Askey and Maya Mercandante.

11. C. Milton Wright

Coach: Donnie Mickey

Outlook: The Mustangs have to replace the majority of their top five runners from 2019, but there is promise coming off last season. Sophia Skinner, Ellie Basham and Ella Swayne all ran well at the 3A North regional track meet and should continue to develop throughout the cross country season.

12. Westminster

Coach: Jim Beacham

Outlook: The Owls finished a close third at the Carroll County championships last spring and will be led by junior Hannah Toth, who finished fifth at the championship meet in the spring.

13. Broadneck

Coach: Briana Bostic

Outlook: The Bruins finished second to Severna Park at the 2019 Anne Arundel County championships and fourth at the 4A state meet. They will be led by Mollie Fenn, who is coming off an outstanding track season in which she finished second at the 4A state meet in the 3,200.

14. McDonogh

Coach: Phil Turner

Outlook: The Eagles are looking to crack the top three in the IAAM A Conference championships and will be led by talented sophomore Mary Gorsky, who ran some fast times in the 800 and 1,600 during the abbreviated spring outdoor track season.

15. Crofton

Coach: Christine Hinton

Outlook: The Cardinals enter their first competitive cross country season as contenders in Class 3A. Junior Mahlet Mesfin leads the group after winning the 2A South region championship in the 3,200 during the spring outdoor season, while junior Alyssa Gallaher was second in the 1,600.

Others considered: Arundel, Centennial, Century, Harford Tech, River Hill

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