An era ended at Mount St. Mary's when Peter Rono didn't return for the fall semester.
Rono followed the Cheruiyot twins from their native Kenya to Emmitsburg in spring 1987, and the three gave the Mount some magic running moments. Most memorable was Rono's victory in the 1,500 meters at the 1988 Olympics.
This cross country campaign would have been Rono's last in a Mount uniform, but he's back home, preparing for next month's African Games, a meet that has historic significance since it will be held in South Africa. Rono might finish his undergraduate work at the Mount in the spring, but he's also trying to nail down a berth for the Barcelona Olympics, an uncertainty since he failed to get out of the semifinals at last month's world championships.
Despite Rono's absence, the state still has some fine running talent.
As always, Navy has the premier team, with Greg Keller showing the way. A junior from Harvard, Neb., he and Rono were the state's only qualifiers for the NCAA Division I championships a year ago. Injuries to two veterans created openings for the Plebe class, and Nashville native Keith Ikard has impressed.
The NCAAs are the goal for Maryland's Greg Early and Chris Ciamarra. Early was a 4:13 miler at Eleanor Roosevelt High in Beltsville and Ciamarra an All-Metro for Glen Burnie, and both are primed for their last year of collegiate running. The Terps' No. 3 man is junior Chris Shelby, a walk-on who last competed for Old Mill High.
UMBC goes for its first East Coast Conference title led by senior Rob Magin (Westminster) and sophomore Don Augustin (Centennial). The Retrievers' depth continues, thanks to the Elwood twins, Scott and Steve, from Edgewood, and freshmen Matt Ciarpella (Archbishop Curley) and Dave Wall (Broadneck).
The Retrievers, by the way, are favored to take their own UMBC Invitational Saturday (noon). The 10-team field includes Towson State, which again is led by senior Paul Walters (Aberdeen).
Coppin State is the early favorite in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, thanks to sophomores Courtney Bennett, the MEAC 5,000-meter champ last spring, Nicholas Eugene (Virgin Islands) and Euan Hinds. Morgan State's Troy Baker (Paint Branch), was the runner-up to Bennett at the Delaware State Invitational.
The state's most realistic national aspirations might reside in Division III. Johns Hopkins senior John Robinson and Salisbury State junior Tim Smith (North Carroll) are after their first NCAA appearances.
Frostburg State, 13th in the nationals last year, could have its best team ever. Chris Lesser and Vernon Chavis (Parkville) are the top holdovers, and the newcomers include Vernell Chavis, Vernon's brother, and James DiIenno, a transfer from Slippery Rock. The talent ranges from 31-year-old George Brown to Sheridan Snedden, a freshman from Glen Burnie.
* In women's cross country, Maryland has pretty much a home-grown team as it tries to improve on 1990's sixth-place finish in the ACC. The front-runner, Robin Grim, is from Fairfax, Va., but she's followed by Karen Eisemann (C. Milton Wright), Dana Colligan (Centennial) and Donna and Deborah Zubalik (Old Mill).
Kerry O'Neill and Susie Stewart are showing the way for Navy, and Plebe Nancy Olson is one of the best recruits ever in Annapolis. Mount St. Mary's also has a highly touted freshman, Stella Cinoa.
UMBC senior Chris Yorio won the Metro Invitational, and Coppin State's Felisha Harris, a hurdler in track, is the MEAC favorite. Western Maryland sophomore Kendra Weible could be the state's top Division III runner.
* There is still a Saturday left in September, but the state doesn't have an unbeaten, untied football team. Johns Hopkins is the only unbeaten, but the Blue Jays had to rally to get a tie in their season opener. Maybe the key is to avoid Saturdays, as Hopkins plays its third straight Friday night game tomorrow, at Fairleigh Dickinson-Madison.
Frostburg State, holder of the state's best record the last two years, was upset by Grove City in its opener, giving Salisbury State hope in their annual Mountains to the Shore rivalry. The two play Saturday (1:30 p.m.) in Salisbury.
* Loyola golfer Tom Gramigna finished third at the Georgetown Hoya Invitational . . . The Northeast Conference tournament is in Hollidaysburg, Pa., today and tomorrow, and Robert Morris senior Shawn Hlavay (Arundel High) is among the favorites.