Brian Carneal of Northeast said that familiarity will be key to capturing the Maryland golf championships today at Clustered Spires in Frederick, where the tournament will be decided in 18 holes this year instead of the customary 36. This month's sniper attacks prompted officials to move the tournament from the usual locale -- the University of Maryland -- to a more remote location.

Last year, Carneal bogeyed his final hole and lost the championship by one stroke. But this past week, the senior played a practice round at Clustered Spires, shot a 67, and assessed the new course which will play 6,165 yards, par 71 for the championship.

"I felt great. I've got a lot of confidence going in," said Carneal, who routinely booms 300-yard drives. "The rough didn't seem too bad. The greens are extremely fast. They were rolling great and hopefully they'll stay like that."

A favorite to claim the team championship is La Plata. The foursome of reigning state champion and All-Met Joe Gross, Brent Martin, Tim Deavers and Kyle Murray set Southern Maryland Athletic Conference match records for low 18-hole team score and low nine-hole team average this season.

"Mentally, a lot of the kids were looking forward to [the University of] Maryland," La Plata Coach Mike Meiser said. "I know we're going to have a tough match at states, but we seem to focus and get done the job at hand."

La Plata tallied a team total of 296 at districts three weeks ago, an average score of 74 per player.

Yohannes a Winner

Magruder senior Awit Yohannes shook off a determined charge from Gaithersburg's Eric Pauley and three weeks without organized training to claim Saturday's Montgomery County cross-country championship.

The meet, held on a soggy, makeshift course at John Poole Middle School, had been postponed since Wednesday because of the sniper shootings that cost the county's runners crucial training and competition. However, Yohannes looked like he had not been idle long, clocking 16 minutes 25 seconds after Pauley fell down midway through the 5K race.

"Awit looked strong, he looked smooth," Magruder Coach Ron McGaw said. "He's obviously been training on his own through this whole ordeal we've had."

State champion Northwest defended its county title with 48 points over Damascus (89) and Magruder (120). Walter Johnson's Ashley St. Denis won the girls' race in 19:58 as the Wildcats captured their fifth-straight championship with 49 points. Northwest (76) and Quince Orchard (122) were second and third, respectively.

Although Montgomery County teams had the longest layoff, many still believe the county is the most competitive in the state and will produce a state champion. In only his second year of cross-country, Yohannes signaled Saturday that he is ready to take on the state.

"He's a legitimate contender -- and he doesn't back down from anyone," McGaw said. "He loves running, and it's become his identity. He's now known as the fastest kid in school, and he likes it."

Senior Brian Carneal of Northeast takes another swing at Maryland championship, which he lost by one stroke last season.