Expect to see Jacob Cole (middle) and Antonio Camacho-Bucks (right) contending for the individual title on Saturday at their home course. (Photo by Craig Amoss)
When we previewed the Howard County Boys XC Championship back in August, we noted that this could be one of the greatest fields of runners in county history. Now, without a full season of invitationals and championship races to compare them to the rest of the state's top runners, a claim like that will be hard to back up or disprove. However, while the rest of the state has been competing in mostly low-key dual- and tri-meets, Howard County has been showcasing its top talent against each other in six-team meets all spring.
Moreover, the presence of clubs such as Bullseye Running and the Ellicott City Track Club have boosted the rates at which Howard County runners have been competing (and improving) compared to the rest of Maryland, as many of its top runners have competed throughout the school year in open and club meets in Maryland and the surrounding area.
All of which is to say that the boys race at Saturday's meet could be the most anticipated race of the school year (depending on what happens with the outdoor track season). The Centennial boys have looked like favorites all spring, led by the 1-2 punch of sophomore Antonio Camacho-Bucks and senior Jacob Cole. Coming on strong as of late is Howard, who won the team's last race at Oakland Mills despite missing junior Joseph Raudabaugh, who was busy running a 4:17 1600 on the track. Mt. Hebron and River Hill still have two of the deepest teams in the state, and Glenelg, Marriotts Ridge and Long Reach all might have their best teams in at least a decade.
Photo by Craig Amoss
Where the real drama will occur, however, is in the race for first. Gone is River Hill's Anish Nanjappa, meaning someone else will be crowned the Howard County champion since October 2017. Enter Oakland Mills senior Baidy Ba, who turned a surprising 2A West regional title and run at the 2A state title as a junior last fall into a dominant senior year. His notable performances this year include a 14:52 three-mile effort in September, a 9:13 3200 on the track in November and a fourth-place finish at the AAU XC Championships shortly thereafter. His last time out, Ba fell just a few seconds shy of the course record at Oakland Mills, putting over 30 seconds between himself and the field.
It would not be a dramatic race without challengers, however. The aforementioned duo of Camacho-Bucks and Cole raced Ba close on March 20 at Mt. Hebron; Ba edged Camacho-Bucks by just a few tenths of a second, giving him four victories over the 4:14 miler this year (and none by more than six seconds).
Photo by Mary Ann Magnant
Of all the boys we previewed at the end of the summer, Long Reach senior Cameron Hindle did not make the list. Coming off a junior season in which he clocked a 16:09 three-mile personal best, Hindle - similar to Ba - has taken a major step forward this year as a senior. After dropping a 4:17 mile on the track in January, Hindle completed an undefeated three-race regular season on the course throughout March. The most recent also happened to be the most impressive, when he put more than ten seconds between himself and Centennial's top duo.
Part of what makes this year's field great is the strength through the top ten runners. Both Howard (Raudabaugh and senior Kendall Phillips) and Marriotts Ridge (seniors Grayson Max Crockett and Michael Wade) could have two in the top ten. Sophomore Ethan Aidam has been a huge boost in his first season at Oakland Mills. Senior Fernando Duraes gives Centennial perhaps the best top three in Maryland. Both River Hill and Mt. Hebron will likely put at least one runner in the top ten, if not more.