The big changes in county cross county this year won't be because ofhot-shot new freshmen or the most recent reclassification and regional realignment.
Rather, the big news is a couple of athletes well-known in Carroll running circles -- one new to cross county and one new to his school.
Stephanie Morningstar, after three outstanding seasons as a distance runner for the Westminster track team, is giving cross country a try. Her addition to the cross country team means the Owls will have a good chance of winning the state title in November.
Jim Clarius transferred from South Carroll to Francis Scott Key over the summer, and his addition to the Eagles squad gives that team a good shot at astate title.
As the season starts, every school in the county will be able to field complete girls and boys teams comfortably for the first time in many years. Key, North Carroll, Westminster and WesternMaryland College have all had trouble fielding women's teams on at least one occasion over the past five years or so, but every high school team in the county has at least eight athletes as the season starts.
Here's how the county teams are shaping up:
FRANCIS SCOTT KEY EAGLES
Clarius joins three returnees and a host of promising newcomers that have Coach Jim Bullock's eyes set on Monocacy Valley Athletic League, regional and Class 1A state titles. About the only place hedoesn't expect to win a title is in Carroll County, where he hopes to finish second behind Class 4A power Westminster.
While Clarius alone is a big boost, he provides an added bonus by giving top returnee Mitch Jones someone to chase in practice. Pushing those two in practice, among others, are newcomers Jonathan Hjembo and Kenny Oldham.
"When we had our first meeting, I told the boys, 'Let's go for top three in the state,' " Bullock said. "After Clarius transferred in, Isaid, 'Let's go for the top spot.' "
Boonsboro, North Hagerstown and Brunswick figure to be the top contenders for the MVAL boys crown.
Key's girls finally managed to have a complete team in most of their meets last year after having just two members on the team three years ago. Now, with nine on the squad, the idea is to earn some respect and a team berth in the state championship meet.
Bullock has all five runners back from last year's team, but the leader thus far has been sophomore newcomer Shannon Hugg, whose father, Bobby, had theschool record in the mile run in the early 1970s. Another important new face is Eleni Koutsouradis, who lives in Catonsville, Baltimore County, but attends Key so she can work in the evenings at her family's Country Kitchen restaurant in Taneytown.
Those newcomers will blend in with the returnees, led by seniors Cindy Bollinger and Sarah Ensor. A key for the team right now, Bullock says, is getting a solid group of runners in the fifth, sixth and seventh positions on the team.
The girls program has dominated for the Lions in recent years, but the boys may make a bigger splash this year. If IanBeam and Tim Ahern can stay injury-free this season, they'll join with newcomers Aaron Sweemer, Justin Combs and Joe Ledda as a formidable nucleus.
"Ian's hungry," said Coach Brad Hill of Bean, who's added 20 pounds of muscle to his lean frame. "He and Aaron Sweemer are really pushing each other. It's really good to have new kids. If you don't have those fresh kids coming in every year, the other kids get complacent."
Hill said the Lions aren't in the same class with Westminster but have a good chance of qualifying for the state meet this year as a Class 2A school.
A couple of no-shows means the girls team is starting its rebuilding program a year ahead of schedule. Seniors Rachael Adams and Curry Snelson and sophomore Jen Myers return, but Patty Barnhardt didn't come out for the team this year ("I was really disappointed by that," Hill said) and Jen Lowe moved to Florida.
Hill needs to find runners to round out his lineup if the Lions areto compete with Frederick in the race for second in the Central Maryland Conference, though Liberty appears to have enough talent returning to take second in the county.
The Lions also figure to qualify as a team for the state meet.
NORTH CARROLL PANTHERS
Matt Davis missed the important late-season meets last year with a hip injury, butco-coach Stu Krise said he's healthy this year, which makes him one of the top two or three runners in the county.
"He's hungry this year," Krise said of Davis, who will have several other returning runners joining him as the team tries to rebound from several difficult seasons.
Returnees James Heffner, Bob Schech and Brian Letnauchyn give the team a solid nucleus, and 14 newcomers, plus three other returnees, mean the Panthers will have some strong competition for varsity spots.