The success last fall of Howard Community College's cross country team -- which finished fifth nationally for Division III schools -- is raising high hopes for the school's indoor track team.
"I think this past cross country season really started something," said Andrew Yonkin, who runs the 3,000-meter steeplechase and the 400 hurdles for HCC. "We have good runners from almost every high school in the county. I think we are in the running for a top three or four finish in the districts this season."
The Express team includes five members of the school's cross country team.
"I would like to finish in the top seven out of the 20 schools in our district," said Steve Musselman, who coaches both teams. "We have a good carry-over from cross country. It gives our team some strength throughout the year.
"I think indoor track gives the students here a chance to participate who didn't get that chance in high school," Musselman said. "Here we may not have as large a team as the high schools, but 10 to 12 runners can get more attention. At Howard, I can prepare them for a four-year college."
Last season, theindoor program finished seventh in the district, which includes fivesquads from Maryland and 15 teams from New York and New Jersey.
HCC returns four members from last year's indoor track squad, including long-distance specialists Greg MacPhee and Eric Orsini of Oakland Mills in the 5,000 and 10,000. Returning middle-distance runners in the 800 and 1,500 are Vic Kaitell (Hammond) and Ken Hinson (Paint Branch).
"They give us good experience," Musselman said. "They are using indoors as a steppingstone for a good outdoor season."
Two freshmen who play a key in the team's performance are Eric Smith (Chesapeake of Baltimore County) and Ancil Travers.
"I look at Eric and Ancil as my two standout performers," Musselman said. "These two are thecore of the team. They should both finish in the top three at districts next month for their events."
Smith competes in the 5,000- and1,500 runs, while Travers' strong events include the 55, the 100 andthe 200.
"He is a Division I-caliber sprinter," Musselman said ofTravers, who moved from Jamaica to the United States last summer.
Other standout freshmen include distance runners Dave Strats (Atholton) and Kevin Vale (Howard).
"Kevin has a lot of potential," Musselman said. "He is still learning and he is accepting the challenges Igive him. He is always looking to improve."
The program may be ata disadvantage compared to other Maryland schools, such as Hagerstown Junior College and Catonsville and Essex community colleges, because they have an indoor facility and HCC doesn't.
"Running an indoorprogram without a facility is tough," Musselman said. "Other programs don't have to worry about the rain and cold."
HCC uses the trackat Wilde Lake for running and HCC's Physical Education Center gym for hurdle and steeplechase practice.