Catonsville coach Jeff McDaniel has maintained that his girls team has the ability to make a run at the state title if it performs up to its potential.
Yesterday, at the Class 1A-2A Central Region Championships at the 5th Regiment Armory, the Comets showed just how grand that potential can be.
Doing the bulk of its damage in the distance events, Catonsville breezed past the rest of the field en route to a first-place finish.
"We didn't have too many weaknesses today," McDaniel said of a team that finished in the top four in all but two events. "The kids really ran up to their potential.
"We scored everywhere we have to score to make a run in the states."
Catonsville won the meet with 109 points, followed by Hammond (54), Glenelg (50), Wilde Lake (49.5) and South River (35). Other local teams in the top 10 were Towson (seventh), Loch Raven (ninth) and Hereford (10th).
Atholton won the boys meet with 122 points, followed by Oakland Mills, Glenelg, South River and Wilde Lake.
Catonsville took sixth, Towson seventh, Hereford was tied for eighth and Owings Mills rounded out the top 10.
The Comets, who finished sixth in the 1A-2A state girls meet last year, will get their shot at the state title on Feb. 20 at the Armory.
Leading the way yesterday were Brigid O'Connell, Ann Giardina and Sarah Giardina, who finished 1-2-3 in the 3,200 -- giving their team 24 points. Ann Giardina won the 1,600 in a virtual dead heat, nosing out Glenelg's Beth Santilli by three-tenths of a second.
"We're running excellent right now," said Ann Giardina, who said the sweep in the 3,200 was unexpected. "It just happenned. Brigid and I wanted to go out together and finish first and second, but Sarah was a nice surprise."
Sarah Giardina, the younger of the two sisters by three years, earned a top-three finish in the event despite qualifying ninth. Her time of 12 minutes, 41.8 seconds was nearly 20 seconds faster than her previous best.
Carrie Hunt, who qualified for the state meet in four events, and Lori Havrilla, who threw 4 feet farther in the shot put than she did in last week's county meet, also highlighted a strong overall performance.
Atholton captured top-three finishes in 10 events -- including first-place in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 relays -- en route to its win in the boys event. It was Atholton's first regional title since 1990.
For coach Pat Saunderson, whose team defeated Oakland Mills for the Howard County title late last week, the win marked another step in the Raiders' progression to state title contender.
"It was another great team effort," Saunderson said. "We came in today with a quiet confidence. We knew we could win or lose very easily."
Among the Raiders' standout performers yesterday were Jared Howard, who scored victories in both the 300 and 500; Edward Chang, second in both events; and Maurice Clifford, who won the 55 dash.