With the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference cross-country season just completed and the postseason on the horizon (Patuxent will host the Maryland 3A South meet Thursday), it's a good time to look at the best of area cross-country. Here are some of the standouts from races already run and some runners to watch as the big races approach:

Surprise boys team: Westlake. With 17 new runners on a 20-member squad, the Wolverines still posted an 11-0 dual meet record and finished second in the SMAC championships. "With 17 new guys, they did a good job," Westlake Coach Jimmy Ball said. "But I'm looking at the opportunity they had, and you don't get many opportunities to win championships."

Best No. 4 and No. 5 runners (boys): La Plata freshman Tim Wells and sophomore Kevin Alsop. Wells finished 24th at the SMAC meet in 17 minutes, 39 seconds and Alsop was 27th in 17:43, passing out at the finish, for the SMAC champions. "If [Alsop] had broken down any farther out, we probably would not have a trophy right now and be celebrating," La Plata Coach Richard Williams said. "It shows his effort on the part of the team."

Best kick (boys): Westlake's Carlos Hunt. Hunt, who has not lost to a SMAC runner in two years, broke away from Great Mills's Will Christian with a quarter-mile to go and won by 17 seconds.

Best start (boys): Christian. The junior pushed himself and Hunt to a 4:43 first-mile split, exceptionally fast in a three-mile race. Christian usually finds himself alone after the first mile except when he is racing Hunt, whom he has never beaten.

Boys runners to watch: Hunt and Christian. Hunt, a senior, won the 3A South regional title last year and has looked strong all season; his only loss came against Handley sophomore Bobby Lockhart. "I got lost on the [Patuxent] course a couple of times, so I have had some really bad experiences there," Hunt said.

Christian is an up-and-coming runner in Maryland and hopes to keep Hunt close on Thursday. "I'll probably close the gap a little more, but I don't think I can beat [Hunt]," Christian said.

Most improved boy: Chopticon junior Adrian Hill. Hill placed 15th at last season's SMAC meet, but crossed the line third Wednesday at the SMAC championships. He said his offseason work has paid off, and it didn't hurt that La Plata's Wes Valcarcel and Jesse Stump are pushing him.

Surprise girls team: After losing two of its top seven runners from last season, Leonardtown actually improved. The Raiders were 10-1 and lost to Patuxent by one point in the regular season. Senior Kathleen Dunscomb, junior Heidi Faller and freshman Heidi Paul anchored Leonardtown this fall.

Best No. 4 and No. 5 runners (girls): Patuxent's Jane Hendrick and Shannon Lawrence. Hendrick placed 22nd in 22:16 and Lawrence was 21st in 22:12 at the SMAC meet. This bodes well for Patuxent at regionals, because the field will be virtually the same.

Best kick (girls): Northern senior Alexis Wieroniey. Wieroniey was a little surprised that other conference coaches thought she had the best kick. "Sometimes my kick is so hard because I have not been running real fast," she said.

Best start (girls): Patuxent junior Lillian Ricardo. Ricardo had a blistering start at the SMAC meet, finishing the first mile in 5:40. Thanks to that start, Wieroniey wore out at the end. "This was the fastest first mile I've ever run before," Wieroniey said. "I couldn't keep that pace, and I stopped running mentally."

Girls runners to watch: Ricardo and Wieroniey. With her first SMAC title under her belt, Ricardo has gained the confidence that can lift a cross-country runner to excellence. She finished fifth at regionals last fall.

The question for Wieroniey is whether she will bounce back from her first loss at a SMAC championship meet. Wieroniey has won the past two regional titles. "I hopefully can come back from this race and make it up [by winning regionals]," Wieroniey said.

Most improved girl: St. Mary's Ryken junior Andrea Brevard. After concentrating on field hockey the past two seasons, Brevard ran cross-country full-time this fall. The junior placed 18th last year after competing in two meets; she finished fifth on Wednesday. "She is just a great athlete," St. Mary's Ryken Coach Greg Einboden said. "I think whatever she does, she'll do well."

CAPTION: Westlake's Carlos Hunt is all smiles after a strong late kick gave him the boys cross-country title Wednesday.

CAPTION: Patuxent's Lillian Ricardo runs toward the SMAC cross-country title after she set an early pace that defending champion Alexis Wieroniey couldn't match.