Perry Hall's Jerry Martin claims that his boys cross country team's string of 11 straight county championships is in jeopardy.
"We'll try to win No. 12, but it's going to be real tough with Dulaney having the 1-2 finishers from last year's county championships back," the Gators' coach said. "Bob is out to break the string."
The "Bob" to whom Martin referred is Dulaney veteran coach Bob Dean, and the 1-2 finishers are junior Greg Vincent and senior Shawn Sullivan.
Despite his team's obviously potent 1-2 punch, Dean insists he hasn't started clearing space in Dulaney's trophy case.
"Two can't carry you," said Dean. "If we can't pull up a fourth and fifth, I don't know what's going to happen."
Jerry Molyneaux says he is using cross country to prepare his Western girls for the indoor and outdoor track seasons, but Mervo coach Ron Neal believes the time is now for the Doves.
"Western's girls can win it all, and I mean states," said Neal.
Western, the defending city champs, will build its team around Elizabeth Johnson, Lorna Henry, Malea Smith and Tia Burley. Johnson was city champ in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 runs last spring, and Burley, who Neal says "can run with anybody," is quickly developing into one of the nation's top half-milers.
"We'll try to do the best with what we have," said Molyneaux. "I have to see what I have first."
Mervo's five-time defending city champion boys team was hit hard by graduation and could have trouble locking up No. 6. Poly returns the nucleus of its team, which lost to the Mustangs by only five points at last year's city championships.
Yvonne Brown, one of the city's top girls last season, is the lone returning runner at Southwestern.
Having lost four of his top seven runners from last year's Class 4A state championship girls team, Dulaney coach Bob Dean is calling Parkville the team to beat.
The main reason is the return of senior Jen Geroux. In her cross country debut last fall, the former soccer player captured county and region titles and was runner-up at the Class 3A state meet. Her accomplishments made her The Sun's All-Metro Cross Country Runner of the Year.
Rounding out Parkville's top four are Erica Santa Cruz, Meghan Burke and freshman Christy Geroux, Jen's sister.
The Lions, clawing for their eighth straight county title, lost All-Metro performer Meghan White (North Carolina), but return All-Metro pick Bianca Jay and All-City/County selections Sara Hooper and Marjorie Bollinger.
"When you lose four of the caliber we lost you just hope to rebuild and be competitive," said Dean.
Perry Hall's boys aren't as deep as they have been in past years, but the Gators have a solid top six, including senior Kirk Bouffard, third in the county last season, and Curtis Crass and John Kappes, the 1-2 finishers from last year's county JV championships.
"We're a very good team, but we can't afford to have anyone hurt because there's no one behind them," said Martin.
Towson's defending region champion boys team again has its sights set on the region and state meets. The Generals are led by juniors Jason Mitchell and Chris Scott and senior Nick Dischler.
Catonsville's girls team graduated three runners who finished in the top 20 at last year's state meet.Still, Coach Jeff McDaniel remains optimistic.
"I thought it would be a down year, but I got some good freshmen, and Ellen Gibson came over from the soccer team, so we should be decent," he said. Calvert Hall has lost only one Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association dual meet in the last six years, and from the way the Cardinals kicked off their 1997 campaign -- winning last week's Jack Griffen Invitational -- they are poised to go undefeated again this season.
The Cards lost only one runner from last year and return six seniors, including leaders Joe Bryson and Jed McCormick.
"The MIAA is a heck of a league," said Cardinals coach Jim McCoach. "Loyola and Gilman look good and McDonogh is a little off this year but we can't take any team lightly."
Loyola and Gilman boast two of the area's premier harriers. Senior Seamus Whelton, who finished second to teammate David Chalmers (Dartmouth) at last year's MIAA Individual Championships, returns for the Greyhounds and junior Chris Knott, another returning All-Metro runner, is back for the Dons after logging 60-80 miles a week this summer.
"This group we have should win the MIAA if we get in shape," said Dons coach Jose Albornoz. "I think it's between us and Calvert Hall, but don't count out Gilman."
Gilman's hopes of unseeding the Cardinals were dimmed when Landis Kaufman suffered a groin and hip injury this summer.
"Kaufman missing makes us a thin squad," said Gilman coach Jack Thompson. "If anyone else gets injured, we don't have any replacements."
Archbishop Curley coach Gene Hoffman agrees that Calvert Hall and Loyola are the favorites but quickly adds, "Mount St. Joe is a sleeping giant."