Eleanor Roosevelt junior Kelli Thibou can point to one important piece of evidence proving that a summer full of training was the best thing he could do for his promising cross-country career: his teammate Mikias Gelagle.
A year ago, Gelagle followed a summer of hard work with an All-Met junior campaign, including six victories, a county and regional title and a third-place finish at the 4A state meet.
"I actually trained this summer . . . and I've gotten stronger from last year," Thibou said. "This year I was like, 'Let me see, it benefited Miki, so if he can do that, let me see what I can do."
Heading into the new season, Thibou is running as well as Gelagle was last year at this time, and it is a trend that applies to all of the girls' and boys' teams. The Raiders had their best season in years in 2004, but they may be even better this year.
"We all push each other," said sophomore Dominique Lockhart, who was fourth in the state in cross-country last year and ended her season with two victories at the state outdoor track meet. "We all want to help the team get as far as it can, and that helps us all get better."
In preseason rankings for the Nike Team Nationals, a season-ending race that invites the nation's best teams for a meet in December, the Raiders girls are rated 10th in the Southeast Region, higher than any other Maryland school and just behind Northern Virginia stalwarts Oakton, Brentsville and Lake Braddock.
Last year, Roosevelt's girls swept the county, regional and state titles, while the boys won the county, finished second in the region and took fifth in the state, including a third-place performance by Gelagle, who was chosen to the All-Met team. Coach Desmond Dunham, beginning his third season at Roosevelt this year, was chosen the Post's All-Met Coach of the Year for girls' cross country.
Almost all of the Raiders key boys' and girls' runners are back, including five of the top seven boys from last year and six of the top seven girls, and several seem to be in better position now than they were a year ago.
Along with Thibou's improvement, Gelagle has put in another strong summer of running, logging roughly 95 miles a week . Gelagle is fit and ready to make a run at Broadneck junior Matt Centrowitz, the defending state champion.
He and Thibou are joined by seniors Zack Reigel and Marshall Casey and junior Donald Lockhart, all returning runners from last year's county champ.
"I feel strong, stronger than I did last year," Gelagle said. "We have a good team coming back, and we're going to do some damage."
Dominique Lockhart has been a standout runner in the youth circuits for years, and she showed her potential last year with 4A titles in the 1,600 and 3,200 meters during outdoor track. Junior Jennifer Redman is the defending regional champ, was runner-up behind Lockhart at the county meet and took sixth overall at the state meet.
Emerging after those two is junior Marika Walker, who was second in the 3,200 last spring and also put in a summer full of work.
"I feel like Coach Dunham pushes us to do the best we can," Walker said. "And it really helps having such a good team; you want to try to keep up with everyone else."