Cross country teams from Woodbridge and Gar-Field have reigned over the Virginia AAA Commonwealth District for the better part of forever, it seems to most people. And from the looks of it, 1990 will be no different.

"Those schools have a number of kids, excellent coaching, and the realization that it's a year-round sport," said North Stafford Coach Don Crawford.

"I think two slots are pretty well sewn up between Woodbridge and Gar-Field," Stonewall Jackson Coach Bill Bixby said of the three positions eligible to advance to the regions. "But most teams are in a position to capture a third berth."

And Bixby's squad has as good a chance as anybody. The Raiders return six runners, including Mike Marshall, the district champion who finished 46th in the state. Marshall is trailed by junior Joe Buchanan, and "after Joe five or six guys compete for any ranking."

North Stafford qualified for regionals for the first time last season and has 12 lettermen returning. The Wolverines will be paced by Mike Reedy, who finished 12th in the district, followed by Bryan Bell and Matt Regan. "We feel like we have an excellent team on paper," said Coach Don Crawford. "I realize paper doesn't win meets, but. . ."

Osbourn Park, with its top three runners being juniors, is probably looking at a middle-of-the-pack finish, with its sights optimistically higher. Ryan Wells leads the Yellow Jackets, with Brian Lewis and Chris Finnegan supporting him.

Stafford finished ninth last year and is hoping to improve a few notches. But with its top runner, Craig Sherman, a sophomore and its No. 3 runner, Bill Palmer, a freshman, Coach Pete Gorfida is looking at better days down the road.

Potomac has a new coach and is basically starting a new program. Although Bill Stearns has generated some interest, he says, "As a team we're two or three years away from having any impact." Tim Conway is the only returning senior and will lead the Panthers.

That leaves a toss up between Woodbridge and Gar-Field for the district title. Gar-Field appears to be the early favorite, with 11 returners with experience and several seniors to provide leadership. Russell Robertson is the No. 1 runner right now, followed by Lemeul Pearsall, Jimmy O'Neil, Jason Sawyer and Kenny Rittenour.

Woodbridge only has five returners, but the Vikings have the momentum of defending district champs. However, Greg Johnston, the top runner, is currently injured. Alex Wehmeyer will pick up the slack, along with Eric Krogh, Scott Crissey and Chris Frysinger, who was hurt last season.

The same two schools dominate the girls division as well, but with a bit more competition. Woodbridge won the district and the region, finishing sixth in the state, but doesn't have a plethora of returners. Senior Michelle Melton, third in the district last year, will lead the team with help from newcomer Melissa Mutrie, junior Rachel Ward and sophomore Julie Tedaro.

Gar-field finished third last season and has five returners. Coach Cristina Rhynedance says her squad is very fast but needs added endurance. Sophomore Jodie Reise holds the top spot, supported by Desiree Porter and Julie Axtell.

But the girls division isn't as cut and dry as the boys. North Stafford is extremely strong and could take the crown. The Wolverines ended up 14th in the state and return three seniors, including all-district runners Christina Barr (fourth in region) and Jennifer Freeburn (14th in region). Erin Wilder, who ran indoor and outdoor track, is a welcome addition.

Stonewall Jackson and Osbourn Park are fielding their largest teams in recent years and are hoping to become forces in the district. Stonewall Jackson has 10 girls, a positive attitude, and senior Tanya Miklosvich to lead them. "This is the first time we've had this many girls out interested in running and working hard," said Bixby.

Mandy Reese will lead Osbourn Park this season and Tisha Springer has been a "pleasant surprise. "I would guess if the girls stick to it we would be in the middle of the pack," said Osbourn Park Coach John Brady.

Potomac has a girls team for the first year and will be led by Caroline Riley and Katie Knight. But with only six girls, Stearns is recruiting and building for the future.

The Class AA Northwestern District has a touch more parity, with three teams in the hunt for the title. Handley has six returning runners from last season's second place team (sixth in region). The Judges will be led by Ed Thomas, Michael Chapman and Paul Westervelt.

Park View also has a strong club, with 22 runners coming out for the team. "I would be surprised if we didn't go back to states," said Coach Dave Hembach. The Patriots got a huge boost when senior Jason Dunn transferred from Ohio. He's backed by three seniors: Greg McKelvey, Mike Schuster, and Mike Miller.

Defending district champ Broad Run is back strong this year and should again be a serious contender for the title.

Loudoun County should come in behind these top three, but the Raiders don't have enormous experience. "The thing that will help the kids is that they are very serious about their running," said Coach Felicity Sheperd.

Chris Beere, No. 5 in the district, will lead them, followed by Shields Bialasik and Parham Behrooz.

Warren County finished last a year ago, but picked up Luke Dieterich, a German exchange student, and is hoping to improve. Osbourn fields a brand new team this season and Coach Justin Martin says, "Cross country has been a sport my predecessors let go by the wayside. At this point I'm looking for my runners to improve. Anything past that is a bonus."

The same schools are powerful in the girls division as well. Handley has four girls back and, led by Kate Raikes, Mikel Hoffman and Tanya Anderson, should finish in the top three.

Park View has only 10 girls on the squad, but two of them are first team all-district. Jody Stock finished 19th in the region last year and Krissy Kowaleski also returns.

Broad Run's girls team looks very strong this year as well, and will most likely be returning to the regions. Loudoun County has two-time defending district titlist Jenna Dee returning to anchor a young team that ended the season fifth in the district.

Osbourn's team lacks experience and Loudoun Valley has only five boys and four girls on its team and is looking to recruit more runners. Warren County also had some girls leave and may not be able to field a full squad.

Of the four local teams in the Class A Bull Run District, district champ Manassas Park is the strongest. But the Cougars have had complications with runners getting physicals and are behind on their training.

Clarke County finished fifth and has eight runners returning, so they could be a force this year. "It's just a matter of getting the right mental framework and getting the rest of the group up with the top three," said Coach Jim Burkholder. The top three are senior John Tiffany, junior Chris Rockholt and sophomore Jim Merriman.

Both Brentsville District and George Mason have slipped in recent years and are hoping to improve their level of running.