The race for the Association of Independent Schools cross-country championship should be a close one. The race for the City-Wide title, however, will be a different story.
Defending champion Roland Park will need to fight off a challenge from a strong Mount de Sales squad and others to win its second straight AIS title. In the City-Wide race, Western should jump to an early lead and coast to another title.
Roland Park won both the regular-season title and AIS meet championship last year. Two big reasons the Reds won the doubleheader were Kelly Sloan and Sarah MacSherry.
Sloan scored big last year as a freshman. She took third in the AIS race and won several varsity races, while MacSherry, a senior, was consistent last year and finished 10th in the AIS meet.
Juniors Linda Rothemund and Ginny Plitt (21st at AIS meet) should be No. 3 and 4, respectively.
"I think we're off to a pretty strong start," said Roland Park coach Mary Beth Dyer. "They're working pretty hard. I think they feel a little bit of pressure, but they try to keep it in perspective."
Mount de Sales could represent the toughest challenge to Roland Park. Injuries stung the Sailors last year, as they lost five of their top seven runners but still finished near the top of the AIS.
Teresa Love is a big reason for that. The junior finished second at the AIS meet, but went on to capture the state Catholic championship.
Junior Liz Williams, a top 15 finisher at the AIS meet, should be No. 2 for the Sailors. Renee Leach, a junior, missed most of the last two years with a stress fracture but has recovered and will be No. 3.
All five runners went to the Penn State cross-country camp and worked hard over the summer. Coach Sean Moran hopes that injuries stay away this season so the Sailors can win the AIS title they took in 1990 and 1991.
"How we do this year [will be] determined by consistency," said Moran. "We have a really strong one, two and three and our four, five, six and seven will have to be consistent."
McDonogh brings back the defending AIS champion in Rahamma Kenya. The junior stayed with the leaders in that race and broke away in the final mile for the victory, and the Eagles hope for more of the same from her this season.
Senior Sara Muhvich looks to be No. 2 this year after finishing in the top 20 at the AIS meet last year and running third for McDonogh.
The No. 3 runner for the Eagles is a newcomer, junior Natalie Patinella, a top junior varsity runner at Dulaney last year. Fourth should be freshman Jenny Scott, a leading runner in a middle-school league last year.
Bryn Mawr finished 9-2 in dual meets last year and was a second-place finisher in the AIS meet. Junior Marianne Edwards should lead the team. Edwards finished in the top 20 at the AIS last year and had a strong summer.
Newcomer Amy Baumgartner is the No. 2 runner. Baumgartner, a junior, played field hockey, but coach Dave Stephens looks for big things from her.
Oldfields was 8-3 last year and lost several runners, but it still has some strong people. Sophomore Kathryn Allen turned in a strong freshman season, placing high in most meets and will be the team's top runner.
Senior Shannon Considine is second and has done well in the early workouts. Senior Laura Hoskins did well last year and is in great shape this fall to run as No. 3.
In Baltimore City, the story is quite different.
Western is far and away the best team, and should have little trouble repeating as the City-Wide champion. Last year, the Doves went undefeated in dual meets, and went on to take third place in their first-ever regional competition, finishing just behind Baltimore County powers Dulaney and Perry Hall.
The following week, at the state Class 4A championships at Western Maryland College, Western shocked everyone with its strong performance, not only finishing in the top five against the state's largest schools, but edging Perry Hall in the process.
According to coach Jerry Molyneaux, though, this year's prospects aren't quite so bright.
"We're struggling," said Molyneaux. "We might win in the city, but coming out of the city will be another ballgame."
The Doves lost their two fastest runners from a year ago, and their third, junior Tamara Clark, has asthma, which could limit her effectiveness.
Clark is the only returner among last year's top five. Running No. 3 for the Doves last season, she finished in the middle of the pack at the state championships and should be the team's best runner this time around.
Joining her will be junior Tamika Blanks, who returns after missing the better part of last season with shin splints.
Elsewhere, the pickings are slim.
Teams that could surprise include City, led by senior Dawn Martin and junior Sherrel Peters, and Mervo, though the Mustangs are better known for their success on the track than on the grass.
Patterson, with freshman Thelma Brown and sophomore Michelle Applegate, is in the process of building a team.
At Poly, juniors Mary Do and Monefia Dailey are the only returners from a team severely depleted by graduation, a dropping student population and the growing popularity of other girls sports.