LANCASTER - Somewhere Marauder cross country head coach Mark Covert has to be smiling.
And why wouldn't he be?
This year's cross country team on both the men's and women's side will bring back old runners and exciting new faces.
On the women's side, sophomore All-American Krista Beck returns this season looking to improve on her 14th place finish at the state meet last year. Beck was hampered by some nagging injuries and illnesses during the track season, including a foot injury, but she is back and ready to go.
"We're as healthy as we can be," Covert said. "Her (Beck's) foot is much better."
The women only have five on their roster, but Covert says, "they might be able to make a little noise (this year)."
Freshman Mariah Theologidy enters this season from Paraclete High School, whom Covert raves about.
"I think she's really good," he said. "They'll (Beck and Theologidy) be one of the better 1-2s in the state. She could be in the front all of the time. Every meet we go to there's really good people. We'll have to see how she does against solid competition, meet after meet, after meet.
Add freshman Karolina Gonzalez (Eastside High) to the mix and you've got a formidable group.
"I think we have three really good ones up front," said Covert.
On the men's side, the Marauders will be running this season without the services of former All-American Bradley Wiggs, who took his talents with him to Cal-Poly, San Luis Obispo and Alec Franco, who is running at the Master's College. It was a team that finished 23rd in the state last season as well.
"This is a little different than the teams we've had in the past. We usually have one or two that could stay near the front of each race and I don't know if we have that right now," said Covert. "How we run as an entire group is very important for us."
Still the Marauders have four returners from last season, including Jesus Patino, Brad Sexton, Lucas Triuisonno and Cody Watson. Covert is excited about incoming freshmen Fernando Flores and Samuel Dinh.
"Those guys should be our top guys. We're going to have to lean on those six," Covert said. "Lucas (Triuisonno) and Jesus (Patino) have greatly improved, but right now we don't have that one guy who jumps out. Right now our big challenge is getting out of conference. If we get out, we'll have a fighting chance to get to the state meet (again)."
AVC is a member of the Western States Conference, which Covert feels is the toughest conference in the state. He said out of the top 20 runners at the state meet, eight to 10 should come from that conference.
"We'll see what happens at the first meet," he said.
The Marauders open their season on Friday at Oxnard College in the Oxnard Invitational. The men run at 10am and the women follow at noon.