River Hill Coach Earl Lauer remembers approaching a kid two years ago who had just left more than 300 junior varsity runners in his dust at the Interstate Classic at Clear Spring High School.

"That was incredible," he said to the kid. "What grade are you in?"

After the kid told Lauer that he was a sophomore, Lauer asked, "Who are you, and where were you last year?"

"My name is Andrew Bank," the kid said. "And last year you cut me. So I ran indoor and outdoor track and trained all summer. I wasn't going to let you cut me again."

Since Bank was shown the door in 2002, with 15 other boys who failed to run 1.5 miles in 11 minutes 30 seconds at tryouts, he has blossomed into one of the county's top runners. Bank smiles when he recalls the afternoon in September 2003 when he won the first race in which he competed and was praised by a coach who had discarded him.

"After he told me I had cut him, I just said, 'Great job,' and walked away," Lauer said. "What else was I supposed to say?"

Bank, who came in ninth at the county championships (17 minutes, 40 seconds) and 14th at the 3A meet (17:49) last year, has left a lasting impression on his team -- and on Lauer. Lauer no longer cuts runners. As long as they do their best and make progress, Lauer keeps them; he doesn't want to make the same mistake again.

"Now that I think about it: What did cutting kids accomplish?" said Lauer, who has about 70 boys in his program this fall. "Cross-country isn't like football. This is a lifetime sport. . . . So cutting kids who are really trying out there just doesn't make sense."

Now Bank is leading the pack -- on and off the track. He was named captain with fellow seniors Kevin McCoy and Andrew Sasser, and he enters the Howard County Invitational on Sept. 9 as one of the team's fastest runners, behind senior Sergiy Zubko, the defending county champion.

"Looking back on it, maybe getting cut was the best thing that ever happened to me," Bank said. "Coming in as a freshman, I did some running, but I guess not enough. I was disappointed that I got cut since it was the first team I tried out for. I think it made me work harder."

Bank ran indoor and outdoor track as a freshman as a reserve middle-distance runner and used practices to improve his conditioning. The summer before his sophomore year, he ran 1.5 miles every day because he knew he could run the 3.1 mile cross-country course but wanted to make sure he could make the team.

"It's exactly a half-mile from the corner of my street to the top of my neighborhood, so I just ran there and back and there again and would walk home," he said. "I wasn't going to get cut again."

Bank earned himself a spot on the team in 2004 -- the last season Lauer instituted cuts -- and after his performance at the Interstate Classic, he has been a mainstay on varsity.

This summer Bank ran four miles a day, not to make the team, but to keep the team strong. River Hill won the county, 3A East Region and state meets last fall, and its top four seniors should lead a lineup that is also expected to include some sophomores, such as Alex Mahoney, Michael Feroe, Jason Harmon and Jason Lee.

"Our first practice, Coach Lauer told us our goals were to win county, region and states," Sasser said. "There's a lot of pressure, but we know what we have, and we wouldn't have those goals if they were not realistic."

Members of the River Hill cross-country team stretch their legs before practice last weekend. The Hawks won the county, 3A East Region and state meets last fall, partly thanks to the emergence of Andrew Bank, who was cut as a freshman. "Looking back on it, maybe getting cut was the best thing that ever happened to me," Bank said.Bank, foreground, finished ninth at the county championships last season.