Lakeridge High School cross country teams will surely be in the thick of things for the championships of the Three Rivers League this season.
Veteran coach Ken James has plenty of returnees and talent for 2008, enough to test talented rivals like West Linn, Lake Oswego and Clackamas.
James has it all going this year, with his entire varsity crew returning and plenty of younger girls eager to make their mark.
'We're really excited,' James said. 'We've got quite a few kids out.'
The optimism starts with all seven varsity runners from last year coming back, led by number one runner Kelly Bartz, a junior who placed 11th at district in 2007. Another stalwart is junior Zoe Newman, who placed 19th at district.
Five seniors fill out the varsity team: Sydney Baker, Jenna Conan, Chloe Block, Annie Misell, and Cassie Loren.
Those seniors will have to run fast because a lot of younger girls will be chasing them. In all, 40 girls will be running Lakeridge cross country this season, and at least a few of them should be future standouts.
'It's hard to say right now who are most promising,' James said. 'They're all running so well. A big bulk of them are juniors, and we've also got some good freshmen. We'll have a good mixture of senior leadership with good younger girls.'
Usually a team as experienced as Lakeridge would be an odds-on favorite for the district title. But league rival West Linn, which returns just about everybody from the Three Rivers title team of 2007, is probably the favorite for 2008.
Still, James must be given a good chance to win his first girls cross country crown since 2001.
'We've been close the last couple years, even though we had really young teams,' James said. 'I think it will be us, Lake Oswego and Clackamas going for number two in district. And only the top two teams go to state.'
James liked what he saw when his girls finished second at the recent Portland Coast Division meet. The only girls ahead of them were an all-star team from South Carolina.
It always hurts to lose someone as great as Dave Marks. Last year he was not only individual cross country champion in district but also second in the state in the 10,000 meters. Marks has taken his talents to the University of Portland.
But James still expects to field a respectable team, maybe even one capable of going to state.
'Last year four of our league teams were ranked in the top 15 in the state,' James said. 'There were a lot of seniors. This year the league will be more wide open.'
Leading the Pacers will be senior Alex Anderson, who finished seventh at district last year to earn a trip to the state meet.
'Alex will be one of the favorites to win district this year,' James said.
Two rapidly rising juniors are expected to raise Lakeridge hopes.
One is Kevin Pearson, who has 'improved a ton since last year and is definitely in our top three.'
The other is Max Heninger, who is running cross country for the first time but has lots of track experience. 'Max has done a lot of training and should be really tough,' James said.
Jason Middleton, a junior, should fill out the top four, while senior Seth Troisi is a returnee from last year.
Experience-laden West Linn is the favorite to capture the district crown, but Lakeridge should be in the hunt for runner up honors along with Lake Oswego and Clackamas.
As far as taking that all-important runner-up spot, James said, 'It depends on which team's younger kids move up and improve the most.'