Expecting another sweep at the county meet may be a stretch, but the 2020-21 Howard girls will have their best chance to showcase their dominance on Saturday. (Photo by Craig Amoss)
It's always hard to tell when a program is at the height of a current dynasty.
In the fall of 2018 the Howard girls, bolstered by a young and talented group that was gaining experience, put together the program's best season since winning back-to-back state titles in the mid-2000s. There wasn't necessarily a clear progression leading into the season, either; after finishing fifth at states in 2014, they had placed 10th, 11th and 14th in the following three years.
Heading into 2019 there was still the question of whether they had the depth and determination to overtake Severna Park, whose girls program had risen to rival its elite boys team. The addition of sophomore Nimrit Ahuja, a freshman standout on the track, certainly helped. As the fall season wore on, one fact began appearing clearer and clearer: Howard was simply better than everyone. They swept the top five spots at counties. They beat Severna Park, 40-57, at regionals. And they completed the dream season with a dominant, 69-point showing at states.
The point of the review of Howard's rise to prominence is to raise the question: Will 2019 be the peak of the current Howard girls dynasty? Not if the 2020 team has anything to say about it. Without normal training routines, ultra-competitive meets and a typical postseason, comparing this year to the previous one isn't exactly apples to apples. But there is a good argument to be made that this year's team, despite losing frontrunner Amanda Eliker, is even better than last year.
Now, this isn't a Howard girls team preview. This is a Howard County Girls XC Championship preview. But it's important to realize how good this current team is: in a competitive, 12-team county with multiple programs that have won state titles on the girls side in the past decade, Howard has a chance to put five runners in the top ten for the second year in a row. Junior Nimrit Ahuja leads the way, and with seven girls that have run under 20 minutes for three miles this spring, the Lions are in excellent position to put at least five in the top ten.
It likely won't be as dominant a performance as last year's 15-point showing. Howard County has more high-end talent on the girls side this year. River Hill senior Faith Meininger is back after missing last fall and undefeated (unchallenged, even) in two Howard County races this year. After finishing second as a freshman and third as a sophomore at the county championships, Meininger will have a chance to go out on top.
Atholton senior Aanchal Kasargod and Oakland Mills senior Ella Harris have raced three times this fall, with each coming out on top on their respective home courses and Kasargod winning at Mt. Hebron. Harris has taken a big step forward on the course as a senior (she finished 14th at last year's county championships) and, along with freshman Frankie Moore, give the Scorpions one of the best duos in the county.
At this point, a Howard team victory is all but assured, so the eyes will be on the race for second place. Behind seniors Katerina Talanova and Michelle Weaver, Centennial would like to pull it off on their home course. Kasargod and the Atholton girls beat Centennial in their only meeting this year, although Centennial did not have Weaver at the time. The performance of Oakland Mills' fifth runner could be the difference as Harris and Moore will likely give them two low sticks in the scoring column. And despite not having a frontrunner, Reservoir's girls have formed an airtight pack together for two years and could work their way into the conversation.