Champions abound in area girls cross country.
Leesville Road senior Nevada Mareno is back after crushing the field by 44 seconds for a N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A title last fall. Cary Academy senior Sarah Bodmer will go for her third straight N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association 3A title.
Team champs Cardinal Gibbons (4A), Chapel Hill (3A) and Cary Academy (NCISAA 3A) are loaded and ranked in the preseason top-five by NCRunners.com, along with Green Hope (4A runner-up).
Cap-8 4A Leesville Road’s Mareno is the odds-on favorite to repeat as state champ, but isn’t the only top returner. Wake Forest’s Erin Spreen, a sophomore, was eighth in the state championships. ... Leesville will try to defend the Cap-8 title with the help of Noor Hasan, but Broughton (Savannah Jones), Millbrook (Emilie Buzitsky and Maya Celetti) and Sanderson (Lauren Ammons) each have their top runner back.
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Greater Neuse River 4A Defending GNRC champ Knightdale has individual winner Aleena Cruz and runner-up Rebecca Davis both back. Clayton’s Faith Raynor and Southeast Raleigh’s Eboni Roberson will also both factor in the individual.
PAC-6 4A After taking the 4A title – making it six titles in a row with the first five coming in 3A – Cardinal Gibbons is the team to beat again this year.
Junior Marissa Bishop was third in 4A last year and will be joined by Annie Pierce, Sloan Walter (12th in 4A) and Katharine Priu among the returners. Riverside’s Ceara Gannon is another top individual.
Southwest Wake Athletic 4A Green Hope turns to Sarah Taylor, Alessandra Rodriguez (17th in 4A) and Samantha Kolor (18th), among others, to keep its stronghold of the SWAC. ... Apex’s Calli Parlier (16th in 4A) and Holly Springs’ Caitlyn Morton are two of the top returning runners outside of the Falcons’ roster.
Eastern Carolina 4A/3A Defending champ South Central loses its top three runners but returns Sarah Haglund, while runner-up D.H. Conley brings back two of its top three in Kenzie Gill and Emma Cole.
More 4A Hannah Causey is the top returner for East regional and Southeastern Conference champion Pinecrest.
Big 8 3A Chapel Hill has an argument for best team in the state, regardless of classification. ... The Tigers return junior Katherine Dokholyan (second in 3A) and senior Clare McNamara (third) and have great depth with Maeve Gualtieri-Reed, Madi Marvin (12th) and Grace Tate (16th).
Big East 3A Defending champ Rocky Mount brings back four of its top five but will be challenged by Northern Nash, led by Halie Huffman, and Hunt, led by Isabella Reed.
Two Rivers 3A Corinth Holders reloads after winning last year’s title. Smithfield-Selma’s Gwyn Reece, Cleveland’s Jasmine and Jessica Cullins and Corinth Holders’ Kaelin Sanderford and Callie Blandford will compete for a wide-open individual race.
More 3A Cape Fear Valley champ Union Pines is led by conference runner-up Kelsey Begley.
Eastern Plains 2A North Pitt edged Farmville Central by a point last season, but it’s Farmville that brings back the top returners in Brooke Schwieterman and Stacey Lattimore.
Northern Carolina 2A It will come down to Durham School of the Arts and N.C. School of Science and Math once again. DSA could repeat its title with Destiny Stevons (13th in 2A), Grace Rogers and Olivia Gregory all back. NCSSM has seniors Frances Massey (last year’s conference champ) and Calista Hnilica.
More 2A State runner-up Carrboro is young this season after graduating its top four runners. Sophomores Elise Deshusses and Carina Taylor lead the way. ... Ayden-Grifton junior Halei Ward (17th in 2A) is the reigning Eastern Carolina Conference champ.
North Central Athletic 1A NCAC champ Raleigh Charter will be led by returning conference champ Gillian Scott (fourth in 1A), a sophomore. Caitlyn Burkett, also a sophomore, of Franklin Academy (11th) is Scott’s biggest competition.
More 1A North Moore won the Central Tar Heel Conference and returns River McDuffie. The Mustangs will be challenged by Chatham Central, led by Chesney Crowley and Caitlin Beavers. ... Granville Central junior Kathleen Burroughs was ninth in 1A.
NCISAA Cary Academy leads the NCISAA in the 3A ranks as two-time champ Sarah Bodmer will pair with Emily Lane (fourth in NCISAA 3A), Athina Zodl, Kate Park and Grace Goetz to make the Chargers the clear favorites to repeat. ... North Raleigh Christian freshmen Kate Meares, Brooke Robinson (10th in 3A) and Christa Dutton will lead the Knights. Ravenscroft junior Frances Margaret Gehrke was ninth in 3A. ... In its first year of 2A competition, St. Thomas More Academy was state runner-up by a point, led by Olivia Lackner (fourth in 2A). ... Community Christian junior Morgan Lane was third in the 1A championships.