The Williamsport boys cross country team is loaded.
The three-time defending Washington County champions return six of their top seven runners from last fall, led by senior star Evan Hardy.
If the Wildcats were still in Class 1A, they likely would be favored to win their first state title since 1975.
However, beginning this fall, Williamsport is now in Class 2A.
“It’s like you waited a long time in line to get something and then, all of the sudden, you have to get in the back of another line,” Williamsport coach Randy Buchman said. “I think our boys team is still very competitive in 2A, but certainly we’re not favored.
“There are only a handful of good teams in 1A, but a ton of them in 2A. But I think we’re definitely one of the better 2A teams.”
Hardy was the 1A state runner-up in cross county last fall, before sweeping state titles in the 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs on the track, both indoors and outdoors.
While he would have been the top returnee in 1A, his time from last fall’s state meet (16:56) also is superior to any returnee’s in 2A.
“I’m sure he’ll do exceedingly well this season,” Buchman said. “I don’t think there are too many guys who are going to beat him at the various places we go. He’s excited about 2A, excited about the new competition.”
The Wildcats have two other all-county first-teamers returning from last year — juniors Cody Bowman and Cody Grams.
The Williamsport girls return four of their top seven runners from last year’s team that placed third in the county.
“We’re much improved,” Buchman said. “I don’t know if we’re a championship outfit, but we’re way better than we’ve been the past few years.”
Sophomores Tori Boward and Alex Henry are the top returnees, but freshman Meggan Grams is the Wildcats’ top runner.
“There’s no doubt about it, she’s fast,” Buchman said. “She’s strong and she’s full of guts. She’s a tough kid. ... We’re probably going to need to train her with the boys.”
The North girls are in the same predicament as the Williamsport boys — a dilemma most coaches probably would envy.
The Hubs also are three-time defending county champions with six of their top seven runners returning. And they also have made a leap — from 2A to 3A.
“It’s going to be a huge change, good and bad,” coach Lindsay Zerance said. “Good — we have great competition. Bad — I was just so used to 2A and who to look out for. In 3A, I’m just kind of lost right now.”
She has a pair of Emily’s to help the team find its way — senior Emily Simmons, who placed third in the county last fall, and sophomore Emily Ward, who placed second in the state 1,600 last spring.
“This is Emily Simmons’ last year, and she loves cross country,” Zerance said. “And Emily Ward is just excited to get out there.”
In the county, North clearly is still the team to beat.
“I’m really excited,” Zerance said. “I can’t predict the future, but we look pretty good.”
The North boys return four of their top seven runners from last year’s team that placed fifth in the county.
While senior Ethan Robison is the top returnee, Zerance said newcomers Carson Izer, a freshman, and Orin Khuel, a sophomore, might be the top two runners.
“It’s like a fresh new start,” she said. “We want to be better than last year.”
Their first state title since 1995 is the ultimate goal this year for the Boonsboro girls.
The Warriors, who are still in 1A, return six of their top seven runners from last year, including standouts Sarah Zielinski, a junior, and Katie Rickerds, a senior.
They also acquired three key newcomers from the soccer team — senior Lauren Cronise and juniors Jenny Moore and Meghan Alves.
“Those three new girls, Sarah and Katie will make up our top five,” coach Becky Walter said.
Zielinski won last year’s county title on her home course by 40 seconds in 19:30.
“First day of practice we did a time trial on the course, and she ran 19:15,” Walter said. “She’s looking for the school record (19:09) — and the state title.”
The Boonsboro boys lost their top two runners — Evan Moser and Eric Ryberg — to graduation, but they return the rest of their varsity from last year’s county runner-up team.
Junior Josh Testa, the top returnee, won their first-day time trial, while newcomer Sean Snyder, a sophomore, was second.
“It’s hard to replace (Moser and Ryberg),” Walter said. “But I think we’ll hold our own.”
The Leopards return four of their top seven girls from last year’s team that placed second in the county and ninth at the 1A state meet.
“I think we’re going to be real competitive,” coach Ray Shriver said. “The county is really tough, but that’s only going to make us a better team for regions and states. I think we can finish in the top five at states. That’s a realistic goal.”
The Leopards are led by senior Lauren Johnson, who finished a county-best fourth at states.
“She’s logged a lot of miles and just shown great dedication this summer,” Shriver said. “She may or may not win, but she’s going to do her best to try. I know she’ll have no regrets at the end of the year, because she’s going to give it everything she has to give.”
The Smithsburg boys return six of their top seven runners from last year’s third-place county team, led by junior Luke Daigneault, who is the No. 2 returnee in Maryland 1A. He placed ninth at last year’s state meet.
“He doesn’t take anything for granted,” Shriver said. “He’s just busting his butt to be the best that he can be.”
The Rebels remain a work in progress under the guidance of second-year coach Tammy Marriner.
“It’s really exciting right now,” she said. “I have about 20 runners (12 boys, eight girls) who are consistently at practice. We’re still trying to build, still trying to get the program going.
“Hopefully we’ll turn some heads this year — or at least have some people say, ‘Oh, that’s South High,’ in a good way.”
The boys return four of their varsity runners from last year’s fourth-place county team. They are led by junior Bryan Durboraw, who had a breakout track season last spring and was the top high school finisher at last weekend’s Gary Brown 5-Miler in Williamsport.
“The boys are much stronger than they were last year at this time,” Marriner said. “They’re really pushing each other. They want to earn the respect of other schools.”
The South girls, who have struggled in recent years to just field a team, have modest goals.
“I’m hoping to have a full team (seven runners) at every race,” Marriner said. “And I’d like to see us not be at the bottom of the heap. I think we might have some girls who are competitive by the end of the season.”
Sophomore Jordan Breeden is the top returnee. Newcomer Jenny Harmon, a junior, also should help lead the way.
The Blazers finished last season with only five girls and five boys, and the lack of depth showed in the results.
The good news this season is that each team has double digits on the roster, including the majority of last year’s runners.
“We had a rough fall last year, but we’re very excited that we can start fresh this fall,” coach Jaime Mason said. “We have a lot of new faces, and we have a new perspective.
“Practice has been fun to watch. We have a nice balance of experience and the excitement that new cross country runners bring.”
Sophomore Matt Breakall, who placed 10th at last year’s county meet, is the top returnee on the boys team.
Senior Mikaela Shelton and sophomore Morgan Pettner, who was sidelined with an injury at the end of last season, are the top returnees on the girls team.
“I love the fact that the first meet is at Clear Spring (Saturday’s Interstate Classic) and the county meet is at Clear Spring,” Mason said. “We’ll be able to measure how far they’ve come.”
As of a week ago, the Panthers had only five boys and one girl on their roster.
“I’m still working on getting a few more — recruiting and promoting,” coach Jeff Spielman said. “I’m trying to recruit some soccer girls to run.”
Only one of those six — junior Tyler Anderson — has any cross country experience. He ran as a freshman, but was out last year with an injury.
“They’re all newcomers, basically,” Spielman said.
That also means they weren’t there to witness last year’s milestone achievement by then-senior Stephen Starliper, who became the first Panther since 1980 to qualify for the state meet.
“That’s unfortunate, because he was a heck of a role model,” Spielman said.
But Hancock still has goals.
“We’re just looking to improve and take small steps,” Spielman said.
St. Maria Goretti
The Gaels are back for Season 2 — after fielding a boys team for the first time since the early 1970s and a girls team for the first time ever last year.
“Last year, our mentality was just to finish races,” coach Mike Spinnler said. “This year, our kids have put some miles in. We have some sharp kids who get it — the more miles they put in, the better they’ll be.”
Their season finale last year was the inaugural Hagerstown City Championships — a tri-meet between North, South and Goretti — in which the Gaels finished second in the girls race and third in the boys.
Goretti has the top two boys returnees from that city showdown — junior Mitch Swope, who was third, and sophomore Patrick Jones, who was fourth — as well as some key additions from the spring lacrosse team.
“The boys team we have right now could beat the peak team from last year in a virtual dual meet,” said Spinnler, who is still recruiting.
“We only have five girls (including sophomore Anne Marie Sullivan, last year’s top runner),” he said. “But the five girls we have, I’m really pleased with. We should be better than last year.”
This year’s city championship is Oct. 19 at South. However, Spinnler still is hopeful that the Gaels’ final meet will be Oct. 27 at the county championships (which has not included private schools in the past).
“If we get an invite to the county championships, we’ll have kids there with ‘Goretti’ on their chests, ready to go to work,” he said.
The Saints again only have a boys team, and there’s nowhere for them to go but up after finishing seventh in the seven-team Mid-Atlantic Conference championships last year.
Improving on that finish is “the big goal,” said first-year Saint James coach Warner James, who replaced Nick Kinney after assisting him last year.
“We have a good crew coming back, and it’s a nice group of kids,” James said. “They love the sport and are gaining experience all the time.”
Four of their top seven runners from last season are back, including senior Michael Knable, who led the Saints with his 33rd-place finish at last year’s MAC championships.
A couple of underclassmen — sophomore Carl Thomas and freshman Jake Fishkin — are leading the way right now.
“It’s exciting,” James said. “The great thing about cross country is that you can take kids where they are and then watch them progress. You set goals and try to reach them.”
Saint James will host St. Maria Goretti, St. John’s Catholic Prep, Maryland School for the Deaf and Mercersburg Academy in the first Independent-Parochial School League championships Oct. 8.