When the Anne Arundel Community College women's cross country team won its first trophy of the season last month, so many runners took turns holding it that the award eventually was covered with scratches.
"Everyone wanted to touch it and look at it," said Pioneers coach Jim Fontaine, whose team had placed second at Montgomery-Rockville.
Fontaine, the longtime trainer on the Arnold campus, came up witha solution.
"Now, he always brings extra towels so we can wrap them up," said No. 1 runner Yvette Lee.
Fontaine is taking plenty oftowels with him this weekend to Paramus, N.J., site of the district and regional junior college cross country championships.
Anne Arundel leaves tomorrow to join other teams from the East Coast. The top men's and women's team will qualify for the national championships inWichita, Kan., on Nov. 16.
"If we win there, we get a big, big trophy and a banner," Fontaine said.
The top 15 male and female runners also qualify for the meet, and Fontaine believes a few of his athletes have a legitimate chance to make the trip to Kansas, beginning with No. 1 men's runner Doug Murphy.
The Broadneck graduate's personal record in a 8K race is 27 minutes, 30 seconds, but Fontaine said"He'll have to run a little faster than that to make it. But he's primed and ready to go."
Murphy, who Fontaine said has accumulated "a boatload of trophies" this season, said his primary goal is to finish in the top five in the state. "There are three guys from Hagerstown who have beaten me so far, so they're my main competition," he said.
Concerning the men's team, Murphy said, "If we have goodruns from the two through five guys, we could beat Essex and qualify for the nationals. I would like to think that could happen, but I'm not sure."
Murphy, who has drawn interest from state colleges like Goucher,Frostburg and Western Maryland, said the men's team has progressed "a lot faster" than he anticipated.
"At the beginning, I didn't think we'd do that good, but some guys started dropping their times. I'mreal happy with that," he said.
He credits a late addition, QueenAnne's graduate Mike McKenzie, for providing a lift. McKenzie joinedAnne Arundel after the fourth meet, and "the other guys really started working harder and running better," Murphy said.
The women's team certainly has run well this season, also winning a trophy at Howard on Sept. 21. And it's looking to add to its collection.
"They'reso balanced," said Fontaine, who helped resurrect the cross country program after its demise in 1987. "Three of them can run the 5K in 21minutes."
That includes No. 2 runner Kellie Smith of South River,who first realized the Anne Arundel women would enjoy some success this fall after the opening meet at Essex on Sept. 7, when the Pioneers placed first among junior colleges.
"We all surprised ourselves.We were all shocked," Smith said.
"I think we'll do real well this weekend. Our coach says Essex has four girls, and we have five. We have a complete team, and we've been running good all season."
ThePioneers actually may not be at full strength. Lee, an All-Metro pick at Severna Park, injured a hamstring three weeks ago and hasn't been able to run.
On her possible return this weekend, Fontaine said,"It doesn't look too promising. We're not counting on her. She's going to try, and if it hurts, she's going to stop.
"There's a fine line between being in top condition and being injured. She's crossed that line and it's been killing us. But when they're hurt, they're hurt. That's a big part of cross country."
So is peaking at the righttime, which Fontaine thinks his program is doing.
"All year, our goal was to improve, and the kids have done that," he said. "Our lastmeet at Salisbury (Oct. 19), we had nine runners record their fastest times. If not for Yvette's injury, we'd be on cloud nine. That's the only bummer right now.
"Overall, we've had a good year. We've hung together and kept the (roster) numbers pretty high. We started with 17 runners, and now we have 13. It's been a tough schedule, but despite that, we've hung in there, and that's why we're psyched for thismeet. We'll really be able to see how we measure up on the junior college level."