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Leopards face uphill battle to defend 1A title

November 10, 2007|By ANDREW MASON

South Carroll is the team to beat in the Class 1A girls race Saturday at the Maryland State Cross Country Championships at Hereford High School.

"That's what everyone says, but we're going to see what we can do," said Smithsburg senior Natalie Mancini, who led the reigning state champion Leopards to the West region title last week.

The Leopards will have to do more than they did at the South Carroll Invitational earlier this season. The host Cavaliers placed seventh in a tough field with 169 points, while Smithsburg was 12th with 305.

"We're a lot better than we were that day," Smithsburg coach Ray Shriver said. "We'll make it interesting, if nothing else."

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Most years, the Leopards would have been the season-long favorites, having returned six of their top seven runners from last year's title run.

But South Carroll returned its top seven runners from last year, when the Cavaliers finished fourth at states - in Class 2A. They dropped down a class this year.

Last week, South Carroll ran away with the 1A South region title, placing six runners in the top 10.

"It might take a miracle for someone to beat them, but stranger things have happened," Shriver said. "If they mess up, we'll be there to take advantage."

The top three returning boys from last year's Class 1A state race squared off in the West meet last week and finished in the same order they did at Hereford. Northern Garrett's Ryan Bowser is the defending state champ, while Smithsburg's Corey Centofonti was third at states last year and Williamsport's Michael Lilley was fourth.

Centofonti and Lilley both are aiming to end Bowser's reign on Hereford's infamous hills.

"Bowser is probably stronger on hills than I am, and he has a good kick," said Centofonti, the two-time Washington County champ.

"I'm going to have to break him in the last mile of the race if I want to beat him," Centofonti said.

Lilley, who doesn't consider himself to be a strong hills runner, edged Bowser on the track last spring to win a state title in the 1,600.

"I'd be fine with a third-place finish at states because it would beat my fourth-place finish from last year," Lilley said. "But I've beaten Bowser before in a state meet, and I feel like I should be able to do it again.

"I'm not going to back down just because of the hills. I'm going to give it my all and go for the win."

The Class 1A boys team favorites are South Carroll, Glenelg and Mountain Ridge. Smithsburg, the MVAL Antietam and county champion, is a dark horse.

Clear Spring's Ben Courter and Cory Horton are returning 1A boys state medalists. Courter placed 10th last year, and Horton was 13th.

Williamsport has the county's only two returning 1A girls state medalists. Tracey Forsythe finished fourth and Kara Hardy was 10th last year for the Wildcats.

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