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Wildcats take to the hills to defend state title

November 07, 2003|by ANDREW MASON

andrewm@herald-mail.com

A lot can change in a year.

Just as freshmen become sophomores, the Williamsport girls cross country team has matured into its standing as a Maryland Class 1A state power.

"It is completely different," said Williamsport coach Randy Buchman, whose team won states last year with an all-freshman top 5. "It's a little more fun to be the hunter than the hunted."

The Wildcats are the team to catch at the state championships at Hereford High School in Parkton, Md., on Saturday.

No one in the Class 1A ranks has even picked up a scent on Williamsport's tracks this season. Last week, the Wildcats took five of the top 12 individual places to run away with the West region title, topping runner-up Poolesville 32-87 to add to their MVAL Antietam Conference and Washington County championship wins earlier this season.

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Sophomores Theresa Ruland and Laura Forsythe, Williamsport's third and fifth runners at last year's state meet, have blossomed into the team's 1-2 punch this year, while sophomores Makenna Hardy, Amanda Breeden and Kristin Berry aren't too far behind them.

"I've surprised myself. It's really fun," Ruland said. "It's competitive in practice sometimes, though, because we're all so good.

"We want to win states again. Coach keeps talking about the dynasty."

Central region champ Loch Raven and runner-up Oakland Mills look to pose the biggest potential threats.

"Loch Raven has three very good runners and Oakland Mills has two good runners, and I think we have five," Buchman said. "As long as we get there and get our work done, we should be OK. But you never know."

Very few cross country courses throw more uncertainty into the mix than Hereford's notoriously hilly 3-mile layout.

Most runners and coaches will admit that anything can happen in "them thar hills," from striking gold to hitting rock bottom.

"It's a completely different course, very hilly," North Hagerstown senior Jessica Hanlin said. "The hills change everything."

Hanlin, the Class 2A West girls champ, will be looking to improve on last year's 10th-place state finish.

"My goal has always been to get a state championship before I graduate, and this is one of my last chances to do it," she said. "I have that in my head, so I'm going after it."

Hubs junior and West runner-up Jenna Line will also be gunning for a top position.

Clear Spring junior and first-year cross country runner Ashley Lockard appears to be the class of the Class 1A girls. Lockard's top challenger Saturday should be Westmar's Jennifer Patton, last year's state bronze medalist, whom Lockard beat by 18 seconds for the West win.

"I feel pretty confident," Lockard said. "I'm a little scared about the hills, though."

The area has a trio of darkhorse contenders in the boys races - Williamsport senior Devin Hewitt in Class 1A, North Hagerstown sophomore Hemu Arumugam in Class 2A and Thomas Johnson junior Marshal Lawrence in Class 4A.

Lawrence, the North champion, placed seventh at states last year.

Arumugam, who finished a close third in the West last week, was seventh in the state last year, posting the top freshman time from all four classifications.

"I just want to improve my time. I was only like 17:55 last year," Arumugam said. "That race is always unpredictable because of the hills. Hopefully I'm ready. I've been training."

Hewitt was the runner-up in his West race, getting gapped by Beall's Dan Dewitt - Saturday's favorite - in the final mile. He said he plans to attack Dewitt by attacking the hills.

"We kind of relaxed in the middle," said Hewitt of the region race. "I'm just going to have to put some pressure on him to weaken his finish a little bit."

The Wildcats will need several strong finishes to make a run at heavily favored Beall, a 30-point winner over runner-up Williamsport at regionals.

The Middletown boys, led by senior John Coconis, should also be in the title hunt in Class 2A, where the winner will likely come from the West. The Knights finished third at regionals, three points behind winner Liberty.

The Middletown girls, guided by freshman Lindsey Kessler and senior Catherine Rohland, cruised to an easy win in the West. But they'll have their work cut out for them against Glenelg and host Hereford.

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