Since 1980, Centennial runners have won eight individual county cross country titles -- twice the number won by runners from the next closest school, Oakland Mills.
Jeff Olenick upheld that Centennial tradition Thursday, when he led a field of 68 runners to the finish line at Howard Community College.
The 5-foot-6, 115-pound senior joined previous Centennial champions Ronnie Fletcher (1980), Ken Fowler (1981, 1982), Pat Rodrigues (1988, 1989, 1990) and Kevin Hill (1993).
Olenick made The Baltimore Sun's All-County team last season after finishing seventh in the county, second in the Class 3A East region and third in the state. But he entered this season having to convince people that he'd be No. 1.
He even had to convince himself.
"Never in a million years did I think I'd be a champion when I first started running," Olenick said. "After last season, I thought that if I trained hard enough I might be able to finish in the top five."
The Howard County Invitational was his breakthrough race. He won by 15 seconds over teammate Eric Myers. Although a hip injury has hampered Myers' training lately, Olenick credits Myers for helping make him a better runner.
"It helps to train with an equal or superior. He pushes me, which is something some other runners don't have. He has a lot of talent and is the best I've beaten. I've got to be wary of him at states.
"But we're friends, first, and then competitors. If he beats me, we'll still be friends."
Myers is healthy now, and despite limited training finished a remarkable seventh at the county championships. He is the better sprinter and could beat Olenick if a race were to come down to the final 100 yards.
Olenick has won six of seven races this season, his only loss coming at the Lancer Invitational in Linganore to a runner from Clear Spring.
"He led the whole race, but I took the lead with 200 yards to go. It sapped my energy, getting the lead, and he was able to pass me going up a final hill, and beat me by two seconds."
Olenick usually runs in front, but a couple of times he has come from off the pace.
"He's a focused and goal-oriented runner this season," Centennial coach Al Dodds said. "He's a team leader and worthy captain and should be one of the favorites in the state [Class 3A] race."
"I figured he'd be tough this season, because he ran right behind Mike French and seemed to improve every week last season. And then he ran quite well in track. He's an efficient runner with no wasted motion."
French finished third last season in the county cross country championships, and is now running as the No. 7 man for the Naval Academy.
"French has had the biggest influence on me," Olenick said.
Running is also an Olenick family tradition. His older brother, Steve, a two-time All-County performer, finished fourth and seventh at the county championships and was a happy spectator at Thursday's race.
Olenick expected his main challenge to come from Myers or Wilde Lake's Ben Coffman. He was surprised when River Hill's Mike Prada and Zach Heidepriem and Atholton's Mike Zaron were still with him after two miles.
Olenick also said he had to overcome a cramp in his side during the second mile of the race.
"I adjusted my breathing and pushed through it as hard as I could, telling myself how hard I had worked to get this far."
The cramp subsided and Olenick surged at two miles, eventually winning by about 100 yards.
Olenick plans to continue running in college at Maryland, Western Maryland, Goucher, Towson State or St. Mary's.
Pub Date: 10/27/96