At the beginning of the high school cross-country season, a number of coaches in the Interstate Athletic Conference were saying that Duncan Schloss of St. Albans might be one of the best runners in the league.

Funny thing, because Schloss, a senior, was out last season and most of the rest of the year with a growth condition known as Osgood Slaters, in his knees. The last time anybody had seen Schloss healthy was when he was a slightly experienced sophomore who was an 11-minute-plus two-miler.

But although he had fully recovered from the injury, his coach, Skip Grant, wasn't talking much, saying only that Schloss might be in the top half of the league.

So far, Schloss has met all expectations. He's the best Grant's got this year, as well as the best in the IAC and one of the top runners in the Washington area.

"I just prepared myself for this season," said Schloss, 5 feet 7, 135 pounds. "I ran all summer and dedicated myself to it. I decided people will have to beat me."

Recently, Schloss ran away from a quality field in the seeded section of the Pallotti Invitational. Clocking 15:07 for three miles, he established the pace from the gun and the others simply couldn't match it.

"Duncan is running with so much control now," Grant said. "He'd got a lot more confidence than he did last year. It's difficult to predict exactly what he's capable of."

Among his competitors was Whitman's Eric Meleney, who had set a course record the week before at the Spiked Shoe Invitational in Baltimore, running 15:35 for 5,000 meters. Also in the race was a good South Lakes team, paced by Sandy Sanford, that won the George Mason Invitational at Burke Lake Park the week before by a large margin.

If nothing else, Schloss is demonstrating he can learn from his mistakes. At Burke Lake, Schloss followed a race plan almost identical to his strategy at Pallotti, with one exception. Leading from the start, Schloss ended up third at 15:14 when he allowed two runners to speed by with less than a quarter-mile to go in the three-mile race.

"Duncan's running with as much confidence as any boy I've ever coached in cross country," Grant said. "He's running within himself and that's good."

Grant agrees with Schloss, saying the major reason for the runner's success was his dedication over the summer. But how did Schloss know, after devoting an entire year to recuperation, that after one intense summer, he'd be setting the pace for area's runners this fall?

"I've always been strong in summer age group meets," Schloss said. "And I ran times this summer that gave me the confidence that I'd run well this season. I like cross country better, anyway, I'm better at longer distances."

While training in Berlington, Vt. this summer with St. Albans, Schloss clocked a 35:00 for a 10-kilometer race and later was timed in 26:26 for five miles.

Grant says one major reason for Schloss's showing is a commitment he made to himself over the summer.

"He finally decided himself, after being out all last fall, that he was going to make a personal statement about his running," Grant said. "He's done a lot to motivate himself. He decided that, over the summer, he'd do the necessary preparation and the background work to make himself stronger."

The summer following his freshman year at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, Schloss ran with Grant's age-group team. He asked to be admitted to St. Albans for the following school year.

"I trained with Grant that summer and he brought my time down significantly," said Schloss. "He offered me a look at the school. I had an opportunity to go to a good school and train with the best coach in the area."

Schloss adds that Grant knocked 10 seconds off his 1,500 meter time in two weeks that summer. But age group track and high school running are two very different endeavors. Schloss' performance in his first year at St. Albans was nothing special. He was just another sophomore trying to accommodate a physically demanding sport before physical development would make things a bit easier.

In his junior year, Schloss was able to begin light jogging in the late winter. He had barely broken 10 minutes for two miles by the end of the spring.

"Duncan's sophomore year was encouraging," Grant said. "He was a good steady runner; he's always run well for us. Duncan has gradually increased his accomplishments as a runner, which is how I like to see a runner develop.

"This year he's become physically stronger. He's got better control of his body now. Previously, he was all feet and arms; now he's got control of his actions. But more than anything else, it's the first year he's actually dedicated himself to his running."