Howard County's perennial indoor track powerhouses should continue their battle for supremacy this winter, while the rest of the schools will bunch together, including much-improved Wilde Lake and Mount Hebron.
In boys competition, 1992 county champion Oakland Mills is again the favorite as evidenced by a strong showing at the county's first meet, the Top Flight, last Monday.
However, the Scorpions expect strong competition from Centennial, which features a strong long-distance group led by seniors Kevin Hill and Steve Olenick.
During the past five years, the Glenelg and Hammond girls have battled for the No. 1 and No. 2 spots in the county.
Defending champion Glenelg will need to replace All-County runner Kelly Pellovitz, while favorite Hammond returns all-everything senior Kisha Jett, who is bound for the University of Florida on a full track scholarship.
But Glenelg's strong long-distance runners are counting on off-setting the Golden Bears' speed burners. A deep Wilde Lake squad could be the season's biggest surprise.
"Hammond can't do it all with Kisha Jett, who will win two or three events by herself," said Atholton girls coach Earl Lauer, who expects the Raiders to challenge.
On the heels of Oakland Mills and Centennial will be coach Pat Sunderson's team. Led by senior miler Mike Strickland, Atholton's No. 1 male cross country runner, Sunderson expects to challenge for first place.
Leading a strong Atholton pole-vaulting contingent is senior captain Omar El-Sawi, one of four Raiders to clear 10-6 in the indoor field event.
As for speed, Sunderson will count on senior Eddie Chang (300 meters) and sophomore John Sanford (55 hurdles), who placed in the state finals in the 55 hurdles last season. Senior shot putter Adrian Valdez is among the county's top three.
Lauer expects the girls will be a bit stronger than last season, thanks to more depth and a strong field program.
Unfortunately for Lauer, the depth has not reached the point needed to compete with Hammond, Glenelg and Wilde Lake for the championship.
Highlighting Atholton's girls indoor squad is freshman shot putter Jessica Edwards (29-10), junior high jumper Ammera El-Sawi (hurdles, mile relay) and junior relay specialist Catherine Glascow.
The Eagles boys squad, coached by Al Dodds, will be led by two outstanding high jumpers and an All-Metro distance runner.
Seniors James Koehler, who cleared 6-8 to win last spring's regional outdoor championship, is challenged by teammate Matt Kilpatrick (6-6).
"Both senior high jumpers are pretty consistent, jumping around 6-4 indoors last season," said Dodds.
Senior Kevin Hill, Howard County's boys cross country Runner of the Year, should lead the county's distance pack indoors as well.
Hill will be joined by seniors Bobby Van Allen (1- and 2-mile events), Steve Olenick (2-mile, 3,200), C. P. Krishamurthy (500), Bill Parham (shot put) and John Chero (sprints).
After a fourth-place finish in the county last season, coach Dale Huting's girls squad is seeking to move up behind middle-distance sophomore runner Kari Meyer, senior Ali Hoover (800), senior Michaela Duffy (800) and sprinter Emily Ward. High jumper Jennifer McManus leads the field events.
"I think we have a little more depth at the middle-distance events this season and that could make a difference," Huting said.
There is no shortage of athletes for coach Roger Volrath: 58 showed up for the boys team. However, much of Glenelg's talent is inexperienced.
Senior co-captains Tom Zinchiak (pole vault) and Kris Edwards (1- and 2-mile events) will lead a host of underclassmen, including freshman Chris Selmer, who posted a time in the 4:40s for the mile.
Girls coach Peter Adams said his squad has "awfully big shoes to fill" with the graduation of Kelly Pellovitz, who scored 25 to 30 points per meet.
Adams will turn to his daughter Alicia, the county's girls cross country Runner of the Year, to help fill the void. Led by Adams, the Gladiators' strong distance runners will keep Glenelg in the running. Senior Marguerite Rupsis (500, 2-mile relay) and junior Lindsay Rupp (hurdles) also will be expected to step up.
"I think it's really a wide-open county race this year," Peter Adams said.
Hammond's boys team will look to senior captain Nathan Essay (long distance, hurdles, 800) as well as junior Steve Baldwin (long distance, 1,600 relay) and junior Jason Lappen (hurdles/high jump).
Sophomore Donny Greenburg (55, sprints) is recovering from a pulled muscle but should play an important role in the Golden Bears' 1,600-relay success.
Hammond's girls squad, coached by Peter Hughes, is seeking to repeat as county champion with All-County runner Kisha Jett setting the blistering pace in the sprints and relays.
The senior Jett, winner of three indoor titles (55, 55 hurdles, 300) each of the last two years, will be joined in the sprints by junior Tiffany Murray and Monica Stevens (hurdles, 300 relays).