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State cross country is an uphill battle

November 10, 2006|by ANDREW MASON

Williamsport coach Randy Buchman calls it "the wild card."

Clear Spring coach Jaime Mason calls it "the eighth man."

Whatever Hereford High School's grueling 3-mile course is called, there'll be no getting around it Saturday at the Maryland State Cross Country Championships.

The course is infamous for its unforgiving hills.

"The thing about the state meet is it's so much about the course," Buchman said. "The course is the story, not the runners. You have to think about the hills too much. I've been complaining about that for years."

That hasn't stopped his runners from dominating at Hereford.

The Williamsport girls are the defending Class 1A team champion and have won three of the last four state titles. After winnning their fifth straight West region crown last week, the Wildcats seem primed to make it four of five at states.

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"That would be great," Buchman said. "The difference, though, is that we used to be so head and shoulders better than everyone else that the course wasn't a factor."

The Wildcats got all their scoring from five freshmen when they won it all in 2002, the same corps of runners who led them to two more state crowns and a runner-up finish in 2004. But they all graduated last year.

Only Jordan Atha, this year's Washington County and MVAL Antietam champion, and Kara Hardy are back from Williamsport's title team last year.

"We were blessed with that big group that all came in together in 2002," Buchman said. "The meaningful thing for me is seeing us do it again with a 100 percent different group."

The Clear Spring boys, also the defending 1A team champs, return five of their top six from last year's title team, including medal winners (top-15 finishers) Ben Courter, Cory Horton, Dustin Adams and Justin Grove.

"We have experience," said Mason, whose boys dominated the West region meet last week. "But it's not going to be an easy day. We still have to work.

"Anything can happen on that course. It eats you up. It changes everything."

It changed Smithsburg's Corey Centofonti. Last year, Centofonti finished 10th in 1A West, before placing seventh on the Hereford hills a week later.

After placing third at regionals last week, Centofonti is hoping to climb even higher again at states.

"I'm ready for it," said Centofonti, the county champ. "I'm just hoping for at least top five, hopefully top three.

"If I can stay with (West champ and state favorite Ryan Bowser of Northern Garrett), I might have a chance to beat him."

Williamsport's Justin Cole and Mike Lilley also have chances, as does Clear Spring's Horton after his surprising fourth-place region finish.

Cole, the lone senior of the county's contenders, placed third at states last year for the county's top finish. While he's been beaten this year by Centofonti, Lilley and Horton, he's also beaten all of them, most notably on his way to victory at the MVAL Antietam championships.

"All of us have improved so much. It's been pretty fun," Centofonti said. "I like running with those guys. It helps for pacing. If I didn't start running with Cole this year, I don't think I would have gotten this good."

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