What perhaps will make the greatest difference in the outcome of Maryland state championship cross country competition this fall might not be the relative talents of the runners, but this season's school reclassifications.
The reclassifications effectively have disintegrated traditional rivalries and set up the potential for the formation of new ones.
In girls Class A, for example, Kennedy, Towson and McDonough have been jockeying for dominance since 1981. Upon dropping from Class AA after 1980 when they were state champions, Towson's girls won the Class A title in 1982 and 1984. McDonough won it in 1981 and Kennedy won in 1983.
Regardless of which team won, the other two followed closely in second and third. Last year when Towson won, McDonough finished five points behind in second and Kennedy trailed by 20 points in third.
Domination of that sort no longer exists. Kennedy moves up to AA, as does Rockville, which finished fourth last year. Towson, which lost most of last year's team, remains in A, as does McDonough. Both now must contend with two-time Class B champion North Carroll.
The best individual in girls A may be junior Krista Pierpont of Broadneck, who finished seventh over the 2.5-mile state course at Hereford or Rockville's Erin Green, who finished fifth. But Green returns this fall recuperating from a six-month bout with mononucleosis and may not be in top form until the end of the season.
Towson, with most of the team returning, also might be the school to beat in the boys competition. Last year's champion, Broadneck, which lost most of it's state championship team, remains in Class A and loses its closest competition of last year, Rockville. The Rams return four of last year's top seven including front-runners Paul Loebach and Chris Rajotte. However, Broadneck must contend with up-and-coming Einstein. Last year the Titans finished fourth in Class B, and with the recent closing of Northwood, have acquired much of the Indians' varsity squad to go along with David Michael, eighth in Class B a year ago, and Anthony White, who finished 11th.
"I'd like to think we are going to do well in A this year, but the kids did not run much this summer," said Einstein Coach Bill Welsh. "It's going to take a while, but the potential is there. I don't think moving up to A will make a whole lot of difference. I think in the A and B levels, the strengths are pretty well spread out."
Class AA teams seem most unaffected by the recent moves.
Seven of the top 10 girls state finishers last year have graduated. The top three boys, as well as the fifth-, seventh-, eighth- and 10th-place finishers have also moved on.
"The class changes didn't affect us up top," said Bowie Coach Joe Clark.
Even with Rockville and top runner Loebach moving up, the pecking order at the top of Class AA remains undisturbed.
Bowie and Eleanor Roosevelt should again compete for top honors. Bowie had the most talent on state day, finishing with 66 points, 18 ahead of Eleanor Roosevelt.
"Bowie is always strong," said Roosevelt Coach and former University of Maryland runner Dan Rincon. "They lost a lot to graduation, but they had tremendous depth last year. I'm sure he'll (Clark) find somebody to replace them."
While a loss of four seniors would decimate most teams, Clark echoes Rincon's predictions, saying he hopes his boys will be running on the same level as last year.
John Kipfer, Bowie's top returning runner, finished sixth last year. Both his running mates, Doug Mock and Gary Miller -- who flanked him at the state -- have left, but Clark is looking to Paul Zimmerman to fill some of the gap.
"The rest of the team were the B team last year, they're basically all newcomers," Clark said. "But to tell you the truth, they'll be right good. I hope to be running at the same level as last year and we can potentially get there." And, like Rincon, Clark points to his competitor as possessing the most potentially damaging obstacle to Bowie's second state title in two years. Roosevelt lost its two top runners, who finished second and third. But in seniors John Broderick and Steve Merkowitz and junior Pramod Raheja, Rincon feels he's got the makings of another fine team.
"John and Steve were running 3-4 last year, I'm hoping they can move right in and take over," Rincon said. "Actually I'm hoping we'll try to do better as a team this year. Hopefully, with the fourth, fifth and sixth runners coming back we'll have a nice nucleus. The biggest question mark is how will they do under fire, in real competition? On paper I've got a good group, but they've never been tested."
Also figuring to present substantial competition is Largo's team, led by Keith Swint, last spring's Class AA two-mile champion.
Whitman, which finished fourth a year ago, but lost front running and state champion Eric Meleney, remains in contention. Returning are juniors Gary Sherman, who finished ninth last year, and David Norton. Coach Tom Nawrocki figures the squad will be at least as good as last year's team.
The Whitman girls team has Virginia Mattingly, a sophomore who rounded out a steadily improving freshman year with a second place in the track two-mile run after finishing seventh in the state cross country meet.
The two other finishers from the top 10 that did not graduate finished ahead of Mattingly. Springbrook's Annie Hoefler won the race in a 14:29, the second fastest time in course history, but is not running this year due to personal problems. And the other obstacle in Mattingly's path is Bowie sophomore Robin Quinlan, who Mattingly beat in the state two mile race.
Quinlan returns as the No. 1 runner on a squad that has all but one of last year's team that finished second by four points to Westminster. Following close behind her are junior Lynn Scopel and sophomores Tracy Bistay and Joy Brookshire. Diane Donnelly is the only senior on the team.
"Westminster will be good, you never know how good," said Clark. "They could be as good as last year, but we'll be stronger."
Woodward's girls, led by last week's Woodward Relay champions Jessica Caplan and Jennie Kraich, both juniors, demonstrated they're on track for the state B championship when the won the relays team title. Caplan and Kraich are backed up by sophomore Oklahoma transfer Amy Olson, who is coming on strong.