Leopards, Blazers have state titles to defend

September 01, 2007|By ANDREW MASON

Last fall, the Smithsburg girls cross country team made a target out of then-defending Maryland Class 1A state champion Williamsport.

At the state meet, the Leopards finally hit the bull's-eye, edging the Wildcats 75-78 for the crown.

"I think we surprised them," Smithsburg coach Ray Shriver said. "I'm sure we're going to be the target now. Everyone's going to be gunning for us."

The Leopards won't be easy to catch, as they return six of their top seven runners - seniors Chelsea Connelly, Anna Law, Natalie Mancini and Gabby Taylor and juniors Emily Bolton and Taylor Donley.

"Our goal is to repeat," Shriver said. "We have to stay healthy and run better than we did last year. Williampsort is going to be better than they were last year, and South Carroll moving down to 1A is going to be tough."


South Carroll, which placed fourth in 2A last year, returns its top seven runners.

"If we win this year, it will be an even more amazing feat," Shriver said.

Clear Spring coach Jaime Mason might say the same. Her boys are the two-time defending 1A state champs, but return only two scorers from those title runs - senior Ben Courter and junior Cory Horton.

"We're going to have an interesting season," Mason said. "We have a bunch of new kids. I'm excited to see how things shake out.

"We always focus on doing the best we possibly can. The boys have had a taste of success, and they're not going to give up easily. They're going to fight for everything they can get."

Individually, eight of last year's 14 Herald-Mail All-Area First Team runners are back, including Berkeley Springs senior Rachel Buser, the three-time All-Area Girls Runner of the Year and three-time West Virginia Class AA-A state champ.

Jefferson junior Cory Hampshire was last year's All-Area Boys Runner of the Year and will be focused on improving on his fourth-place finish at the West Virginia Class AAA state meet.

The other returning First Team boys are Smithsburg senior Corey Centofonti, Mercersburg Academy senior James Finucane, Williamsport junior Michael Lilley and Berkeley Springs junior Lenny Roach.

Williamsport junior Tracey Forsythe and Chambersburg junior Haley Thomas are the other returning First Team girls.

Centofonti was last year's Washington County champion and the county's top performer at the Maryland 1A state meet with his third-place finish. Repeating those honors, however, won't be easy for him, because Lilley wants them for himself.

Lilley, who placed fourth at states last year, turned his running up a notch on the track last winter and spring and begins his junior year as the reigning outdoor state champ in the 1,600.

Last fall, Lilley and then-senior Justin Cole, a four-time state medalist in cross country, gave Williamsport the top 1-2 punch in the county. With the addition of junior Naseem Haje, who gave up soccer to run, the Wildcats might have the most formidable 1-2 again.

"I was hoping there would be someone after Justin left," Lilley said. "I'm glad Naseem is running. He's looking real good. He's really going to push me this year."

The Williamsport girls also are strong at the top with Forsythe and senior Kara Hardy, the county's only returning girls state medalists.

And both Williamsport teams are deep as coach Randy Buchman is guiding a total of 56 runners this fall.

"It will be exciting to see what new names pop up in the county this year and who has those kids," Mason said.

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