Neill Russell remembers the advice his father once offered about notcounting your chickens before they hatch.
Not exactly the philosophy of Confucius, but close enough for a coach whose team is the prohibitive favorite entering today's boys gymnastics county meet at Annapolis.
Still, while the third-year Annapolis coach expects a hotly contested chase, he admits that when healthy, his Panthers must be given the edge.
And the Panthers are healthy again with the return of junior Jason Hill, who recently was sidelined with a leg injury, but will see limited duty this afternoon.
"He won't do floor, and maybe not vault, but he'll do everything else," Russell said.
Hill joins a formidable lineup that includes freshman sensation Peter Lombard, "one of the best gymnasts-ever in Maryland," Russell said.
"He has an excellent chance at being in the '96 Olympics. He's the best I've ever seen all-around. If he stays healthy, no one will touch him."
Lombard is the favorite on the high bar -- where he scored an 8.7 earlier this season -- and the pommel horse. "No one's beaten him (on the pommel horse). If he sticks his routine, he'll score in the 8s and9s," Russell said.
Lombard, who receives training at the Naval Academy, could find himself in a three-way battle for the parallel barschampionship, along with teammate Dominic Boardley and Chesapeake's Melvin Long.
Boardley, a junior, should take the floor exercise. He recorded a 9.1 in a tri-meet on May 1, "the highest score ever recorded in any event in the state," Russell said.
"In the seventh grade, Dominic could bench press 240 pounds, and he only weighed 125. That's when I tried to inspire him to go out for gymnastics."
Long, a senior, has only lost twice in the all-around -- both times to Lombard. "He's been our No. 1 gymnast since his freshman year, and he's finishing off where he started," said Cougars coach Kerry Bruce.
"He's really tried to upgrade his routines to stay competitive with Lombard. Individually, Melvin will usually beat him on floor and vaulting; the competition between them there is pretty tight. But Lombard issuperior in pommel horse and high bar and usually wins easily."
Russell is most impressed by Long's determination on the difficult "Tsukahara vault."
"He has yet to land it. He still hits and bounces.But if he can stick the vault, he'll be county and state champion," Russell said.
Another Long strength is the rings, where he executes both an iron cross and L cross and ends with a double back flip dismount.
Long and senior teammate Andy Densmore -- who excels in the"equipment" events -- were among the top four senior boys chosen to the Maryland State Gymnastics Team. Bruce was selected as coach of the team, which competes June 6-9 in Colorado Springs, Colo.
"They'll have to give up their graduation. It was a tough decision, but theydecided to go," Bruce said.
Also making the trip are Meade's Dennis Jones and Old Mill's Sean Riddle.
Riddle is the lone senior on an Old Mill team that scored a state-record 162.45 in winning the Maryland State Regional and county titles last season. His best events are vaulting and floor exercise.
The Patriots lost seven gymnasts from last season, including standout Dana Bumbrey, the defending county champion in all-around who now competes at Ohio State University.
"We're looking for third or fourth, depending on what Arundel does," said Patriots coach Jack Bliss.
The Wildcats, runners-up to Old Mill last year at 146.0, are led by Ryan Depp, who Bruce expectes to place in the top six in all-around.
"They're capable of putting itall together and coming out a winner," Bruce said of the Wildcats, who are 1-4 against Chesapeake this season.