River Hill sisters Bess and Alicia Seelaus grew up cheering for each other on the soccer field, knowing their age gap prevented them from playing on the same team. They found a way to be teammates this year, however, after Alicia, 14, decided to run cross-country in high school with Bess, 17.

"One thing I've always wanted to do was be on the same team as my sister, but since we were far apart in age, I thought it wasn't going to happen," Bess said. "So for her to run cross-country as a freshman, it's made my senior year a lot better."

The Seelaus sisters have transformed River Hill into one of the area's top teams going into the county championships at 3 p.m. today at Centennial.

Bess and Alicia team with freshmen Katie Harmon, Jamie Scott and Wendy Carter and sophomores Meghan Yi and Laura Triscoli as the Hawks look to win their second county title in three years and fifth in the school's 10-year history.

"I think our girls right now are so good that I'd bet my paycheck that we win the county championship," Coach Earl Lauer said. "Our girls have made a lot of improvement since the season began, and they are running really well right now."

Alicia credits Bess, one of the county's top runners, for helping her make the transition from the soccer field to the cross-country course.

"She definitely knows what she's doing, and I just follow her," Alicia said. "We always run together, and she really motivates me."

Bess said the squad is better than the 2003 team that won the county title. "I think we're a tough team to beat," she said.

On the boys' side, defending county and Maryland 3A champion River Hill, along with Centennial, Wilde Lake and Atholton, have a chance to win, according to several coaches. Each team has two or three standout runners, and the key will be which team's fourth and fifth runners place the highest.

A team fields seven runners, and its score is determined by how the top five runners finish the 3.1-mile course.

"I think all four teams have guys that are going to run well, but it's going to come down to the bottom of the lineup," Atholton Coach Neil Steen said.