Centennial is favored to repeat as county boys champion, with its sharpest competition coming from Oakland Mills and Atholton.
The girls race is expected to be up for grabs among defending champion Centennial, Atholton, Mount Hebron, Oakland Mills and Glenelg.
All-Metro sophomore Dana Strickland, who finished eighth in the state at 19 minutes, 53 seconds, is expected to lead the Raiders to a fine season. Atholton finished third in the county, second in the region and sixth in the state last season.
Joining Strickland are senior Jennifer Elzinga (19th in the county), senior Gail Hodges (11th), junior Kelly Fitzgerald (34th) and junior Ammera El Sawi (40th). Sophomore Jessica Henry, freshman Amanda Lipscomb and junior Virginia Clark also should help.
"We have a shot at winning the girls championship," veteran coach Earl Lauer said. He thinks Middletown will offer strong competition in the state Class 2A championships.
Mike Strickland (Dana's brother) is the senior captain of Atholton's boys team and its top runner. He finished 14th in the county. Junior Brandon Hartz (34th in the county) is much improved. And sophomore Zach Tropf (15th) is an all-county runner. Beyond those are seniors Brian Walsh, John Miller and Omar El Sawi, junior Randy Hill and sophomore Anthony Fleg.
The boys should challenge Centennial and Oakland Mills for the county championship. Last season, it finished third in the county, third in the region and fifth in the state.
The rich got richer when senior Kevin Hill transferred from Pennsylvania.
Hill is expected to more than fill the shoes of graduated top runner Mark James (third in the county). Last month, Hill ran the fastest split times (5 minutes, 20 seconds) of any schoolboy runner entered in the 24-Hour Relay at Howard High.
What was expected to be a close boys county race among the Eagles, Oakland Mills and Atholton looks like a sure thing for Centennial.
"We'll be as strong as last year," coach Al Dodds said. The Eagles finished first in the county and region and third in state Class 3A.
Junior Bobby Van Allen is expected to be part of a big three for Centennial. He finished fifth in the county (16:43) last season.
Senior Steve Olenick (fourth in the county, 16:39), completes the best trio on any county squad.
Seniors Tom Mazko (22nd in the county) and Theron Sutton (28th in the county) return. They've run since they were freshmen.
Sophomores Mike French and Adam Gaydosh, seniors Dan Murphy, Todd Marks and Bret Roberts and junior Doug Jones add to the team's competitiveness.
"We have quality, depth and experience," Dodds said.
He doesn't think the girls team that won county and regional titles last year will be as strong because of the loss of Heather Tanner (fourth in the county), who moved to Alabama; Ha Lam (12th), who graduated; and Adriana Castro (15th), who graduated. But Dodds has a large turnout of 20 girls.
They are led by All-Metro sophomore Kari Meyer (third in the county, second in the region, 12th in the state). Her 2:02 at states was the seventh-fastest among area runners.
Sophomores Meredith Briscoe (23rd in the county) and Stacy Cabanilla (20th) and senior Jen McManus (30th) are back.
Others who will contribute include sophomores Jessica Papania and Brittany Deuchler, seniors Gretchen Heilman and Cherie Sticha, junior Susannah Cox and freshman Alison Pople.
L The Gladiators should have one of the top three girls teams.
jTC All-Metro senior and Class 2A champion Alicia Adams, a two-time defending county champion, will try to break her county record of 19:25 set last season.
Glenelg also returns junior Mary Marland (seventh in the county), senior Mary Rose Rankin (24th) and senior Erin Hemmler (27th).
No. 2 runner Kelly Pelovits (second in the county) graduated, and Glenelg needs a strong fifth runner.
Senior Kris Edwards (12th in the county) is the top returning boys runner for Glenelg, which finished fifth in the county last season and will be young.
Three returning lettermen include juniors Lance French and Nick Fersch and sophomore Chris Seymour.
Coach Roger Volrath said he has several promising freshmen and sophomores.
Freshman Chris Selmer, running for the Howard County Junior Striders, showed terrific speed competing in the Junior Olympics at 1,500 meters (4:23) and the half-mile (2:08).
The Bears finished seventh in the county last season.
Senior Brian Law (31st in the county) is the leading runner, and coach Larry Roberts thinks he's ready to move into the top 15.
Sophomore Peter Laanisto is one of Hammond's best runners. Sophomore Andrew Stockham shows lots of promise.
Others include first-year senior Matthew Arnold and first-year junior Jay Bussiere. Junior Steve Baldwin has improved from last season.
Sophomore Colleen Hines (35th in the county) was Hammond's only girls runner last season, and she's back.