With miles and miles of rolling hills and sparse woods ahead to prove differently, the Northern District appears to be the Northern Region's dominant league in both boys and girls cross country this season. With a few exceptions.

Specifically in the girls division, where defending state champion West Potomac of the Gunston District would seemingly have a lock on reclaiming the Virginia AAA title.

The Wolverines have six returners, including Valerie Hardaway, who finished 28th in the state last season. Even with Coach Mike Cooley keeping her out of the lineup for today's Athletic Directors Invitational at Burke Lake because of weight problems, he has plenty of talent behind her to pick up the slack.

All-Met senior Eve Burke jumps into the No. 1 slot when Hardaway is out, followed by senior Jennifer Clarkin and sophomore Amy Akstin.

The Gunston District tails off dramatically from there, but Hayfield, which added two experienced transfers, and Jefferson have to get the nod for the second and third teams to go to the regional meet.

The Northern District, on the other hand, is loaded with talent and will host a mad scramble for the top three slots, with the fourth team usually being good enough to win the other districts.

Lake Braddock is the defending district and region champs and state runnerup and could win the district again. Although Coach Marshall Windsor lost his top three runners, he returns his next four, including two that finished in the top 10 in the district.

Seniors Angel Carbone and Heather Schwalber will lead the Bruins, followed closely by senior Tammy Mank and sophomore Karen Reinhart. "We've got a good shot at winning the district again," said Windsor.

But Robinson may have something to say about it. The Rams sport Megan McCarthy, the best runner in the region and maybe the state. "She is just so far ahead of everybody," said Coach Dee Raynes, "she's training up with my boys. And she brings the level of everybody else up with her." Robinson's next three runners don't have cross country experience, but they have run indoor and outdoor track.

W.T. Woodson, which finished third in the district and seventh in the region, returns five runners. Coach Matt Murray will rely on the threesome of Maria Mirelles, Mayrie Richards, and Sheila Welter to push them back to the playoffs.

T.C. Williams and West Springfield will fight for the fourth and fifth position and Oakton and Centerville should bring up the rear.

The Great Falls District has several serious contenders this season and is making a name for itself in girls track. Herndon captured the district title last year and finished third in the states. The Hornets graduated only one girl, albeit all-America Alexa Lange. Coach Mike Mahoney is looking for Diane Flaski, who finished 10th in the state, to lead the team.

But Herndon must certainly look over its shoulder for South Lakes, which is quietly becoming a force. The Seahawks may have the best one-two combination in the region with Carla Sopper, who won the state championship meet last year when leader McCarthy of Robinson fell, and senior Robin Schretter. But as Coach Marc Hunter pointed out, "It takes five runners to score."

Madison finished fourth and graduated no one, so the Warhawks could push themselves into the regions this season. The rest of the district is rebuilding and is up for grabs.

Annandale of the Potomac District has All-Met Jackie Concaugh, who finished fifth in the state, to pace them and will fight it out with Yorktown and Fairfax for the district title.

The Northern District has the best teams in the region in the boys division. West Springfield, Robinson, and Lake Braddock finished first, second and third in the states, respectively, and although the strength may flip flop, the teams remain the same.

Robinson is extremely talented and experienced this year, with seven of the top eight runners being seniors. "I don't want to toot my own horn right now," said Raynes, "but we're really strong."

The Rams have probably the best runner in the region in Brad Schmeider, followed by Scott Basinger and Jimmy Blain. "Robinson is good this year the way we were last year," said West Springfield Coach Vic Kelbaugh.

But Kelbaugh's Spartans haven't quite gone by the wayside this season. Although they graduated "five of their super seven", Sparky Thornton (14th in the state) and Aaron Linz (20th in state) return.

Lake Braddock looked to be a title contender at the end of the last year, but the Bruins have lost two runners to injury and one to disciplinary problems. However, Windsor traditionally fields a strong team, this year's led by junior Matt Sloan and sophomore Jay Tolleson.

W.T. Woodson was dealt a severe blow when defending state champ Ibrahim Aden transferred to Fork Union Academy, but according to Murray, "It motivated {the team} a little more to show the other teams in the district that we're just as strong. We're setting our sights on a state championship."

T.C. Williams could be a sleeper, but Oakton and Centreville are building their programs.

The Great Falls District also has several promising teams. Herndon will be vying for its sixth straight district championship, and has the top returning runner in the league. All-District senior Peter Hanks will lead the Hornets, followed closely by second team all-district runner Gus Keane.

Chantilly is not traditionally strong, but the Chargers added freshman phenom Jim Colling, who set the national AAU age 13-14 record in the 3,000 meters. Madison has good depth this year, led by Mark Schuler, Josh Winter, and Kenny Burns.

In the Potomac District, Annandale is far ahead of the other schools, as the Atoms return 11 of 14 runners from last season's ninth-place team in the state. Five of the top seven went to a cross country summer camp, and Richard Sardo, who is now an assistant after five years as head coach, sees no reason they shouldn't recapture the district crown. Bill Sanford, Chris Galione, Dave Pluska and Jason Dinter will anchor the Atoms.

Fairfax will have a solid team, but the rest of the district is weak, as evidenced by Annandale runners winning the top four individual spots in the district tournament last year.

Hayfield returns five of seven from last year's district championship squad and should easily win again in the Gunston. "We feel we have the horses," said Coach Greg Rowe. "If we run smart and don't do anything stupid, we should repeat."

The Hawks have good consistency, with only 23 seconds seperating their No. 2 and No. 9 runners. Roy Borden, who finished third in the state in the indoor mile, will lead the Hawks, followed by Pat Wheeler, Ryan Green, and Steve Yeager.

Jefferson has excellent size and should also be very good, but the third slot will be up for grabs, with an edge going to Lee or West Potomac.