by: VERN UYETAKE -  Becca Miles hopes to earn a trip to state this season after narrowly missing out individually last year.Lake Oswego's cross country teams are starting the year healthy and the program has big numbers once again.

More than 100 runners are out this season and both the boys and girls teams hope to be very competitive in the wide open Three Rivers League.

The girls team is expected to make enormous strides from last year. In 2011, the Lakers were young and inexperienced and also were missing their Nos. 1 and 4 runners for the bulk of the season.

But with nearly everyone from last year's varsity squad returning, the team hopes to not only improve dramatically from its last-place finish last fall, but perhaps even crack the top-two in the TRL and earn a trip to state.

“We have some really quality girls this year and I really wouldn't be surprised if we're right there with the top teams,” coach Eric Lider said.

Lake Oswego returns its top runner in Shea Vallaire who was sidelined for nearly all of last season.

Also returning is Becca Miles who nearly qualified for state individually last fall.

The Lakers have a strong core that should challenge each other all season, including Maddie Willihnganz, Lauren Zurcher and Sarah Tucker, along with lacrosse standout Alyssa Dragelin.

Anna Peaslee is also back with the Lakers after taking last season off and has looked strong in early practices.

“I think our order will change from week to week and this team could be a big surprise. The girls have worked hard and are coming back stronger,” Lider said.

For the boys, Lake Oswego is returning four of its top seven varsity runners from last year and, even though the Lakers have some big shoes to fill, the team still expects to find itself near the top of the standings.

Todd Macdonald returns after a fourth-place finish at last year's district meet.

“He's much improved and should definitely be a top finisher,” Lider said.

Phillip Kearns is also back, bringing senior leadership with him as potentially the team's No. 2 runner this year.

Matt Agritelley and Brendan Holser also return from last year's varsity squad.

“It's a really good crew and a solid core group of guys,” Lider said.

Lider is also expecting big things from some runners who are new to varsity including Sam Hoover, Gary Gates and Connor Wilson, who swung between varsity and JV last year and won last year's JV district meet.

Freshman Linn Rising could also make a big impact for the Lakers this season.

“I think we could be right there again. I know Oregon City is very strong this year and Lakeridge and West Linn should be good. It could be a real battle,” Lider said.

Lake Oswego competed in the Laker Run on Wednesday and will run in the Tualatin Invite next week.

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