"Rachel will probably be running her own race from very early on," Berkeley Springs coach John Rowland said. "The second-ranked girl in the state is a good minute, minute-and-a-half behind her on a good day."
If Buser wants more than individual state glory, she'll need her peer - teammate Valerie Peer.
Peer, the state cross country champ in 2002 and '03 and runner-up last year, has been sidelined since late September with a knee injury as the Indians have gone from favorites to win the state team title to dark horses at best.
If Peer can run Saturday, Berkeley Springs' prerace status will be somewhere in the middle.
"We're hopeful. We're optimistic," Rowland said. "Valerie's resumed training. She's not going to be anywhere near the shape we'd like her to be in, but she'll be a boost to our morale and I'm sure she'll help boost our score.
"There are probably about five teams that have a chance at the state title. Without Valerie, it would be real tough for us."
The Berkeley Springs girls team won its only state title in 1995.
The Martinsburg boys are the only area team to have captured a Class AAA state title. The Bulldogs won that in 1987, and also won it all in 1975 when there was just one all-class race.
The Jefferson boys, ranked seventh in the state in runwv.com's latest team power rankings, carry the area's best chances. The Cougars won the Region II title last week, led by individual champion Cory Hampshire, a freshman. Musselman senior Matt Rouzer was the runner-up. No area boy has ever won a Class AAA individual state title.
Jefferson junior Brooke Boening won the Region II girls race. The last area girl to win a Class AAA state title was Martinsburg's Melinda Hamilton in 1993.
Trojans want their title back
Roughly 50 teams will be competing in the Class AAA girls race at Saturday's PIAA District 3 championships in Hershey, Pa. Chambersburg hopes to come out on top for the second time in three years. The Trojans were district champs in '03 and placed third last year. The top five teams advance to states.
"It's definitely our race to win. I think we can get under 100 points, and I don't think there's another team that can match that," said Chambersburg coach Chris Monheim, whose girls easily won last week's Mid-Penn Conference meet. "A lot of the girls got to experience being on a district-championship team in '03, and they didn't like last year's experience."
Sarah Morrison made the most of it last year, though, capturing the individual gold on the challenging 3.1-mile course. The Trojans junior finished a somewhat disappointing third at last week's conference race.
"She's completely put that Mid-Penn meet behind her and is focusing on getting another district title," Monheim said. "She's excited to get on a hilly course. They're all excited to get on a hilly course that's more in line with what we train on."
James Buchanan senior Jed Yeatts is the top returning runner in the Class AA boys field. He was second last year. But after last week's Mid-Penn meet, he might not be the local favorite.
Greencastle junior Tim Wertner was third overall in the Mid-Penn and first among Class AA runners, while Yeatts was 16th overall.
"This was tougher than AA districts," Wertner said after the Mid-Penn race, which combined AAA and AA schools. "But districts won't be easy."