COACH: Brian Schmit (first season).
LAST YEAR: Ninth in Sunshine Athletic Conference.
KEY RETURNERS: Tommy Accaria, Jr.
KEY NEWCOMERS: Ray Allen, Fr.; Dexter Florey, Jr.; Shane Fisher, Jr.; Michael Goldberg, So.; Eric Paracka, Sr.; Justin Rood, Sr.
OUTLOOK: Accaria is the one of the county's top returners. Paracka and Rood are the No. 2 and 3 runners, and the team is building after fielding just one runner, Accaria, last year.
QUOTE: "We're just first trying to become a team, going from having one kid to having 12 kids out there now, teaching them to be runners."
COACH: Frank Buono (first season).
LAST YEAR: Seventh in conference.
KEY RETURNERS: Brandon Alred, Sr.; Todd Balsley, So.
KEY NEWCOMERS: Greg Moore, So.; Kevin Morgan, Jr.; James Pinto, So.; Jerry Ratchford, So.; Joe To, Fr.
OUTLOOK: The Cobras are without their top five runners, so the squad is in full rebuilding mode. Alred and Balsley are the sum of the team's cross country experience.
QUOTE: "We graduated all of our top five guys last year, so this is almost like a brand-new team."
LAND O'LAKES GATORS
COACH: Kris Keppel (11th season).
LAST YEAR: Fifth in SAC; district runner-up.
KEY RETURNERS: Steven Bell, Jr.; Max Johnson, Jr.; Steven Lang, Sr.; Brian Machmer, Jr.; Brian Sarginger, Sr.; Matt Whitlock, So.
KEY NEWCOMER: Jake Proudfoot, Fr.
OUTLOOK: Bell is one of the most talented runners in the county, and he needs to keep running the way he did at state last year. He and Lang give the Gators the county's best chance of unseating the Mitchell dynasty. Proudfoot could be the county's top freshman.
QUOTE: "We just want to concentrate on some of the bigger meets. I think we'll be competitive if we just stay healthy and train smart."
COACH: Jacki Wachtel (first season).
LAST YEAR: Won third SAC, district championships; eighth at state.
KEY RETURNERS: Mike Holl, So.; Jeff Masterson, Sr.; Jeff Surmin, Jr.; John Tuccio, Sr.
KEY NEWCOMERS: Joey Buono, Fr.; Zach Walker, So.
OUTLOOK: Masterson is ready to take it to another level after winning a state track title in the spring. He and Tuccio might be the county's best 1-2 punch. Buono was going to run for his father at Hudson but changed his mind and now gives the Mustangs that much more depth. Wachtel, a running legend, doesn't want the county dynasty to look too far ahead, but this team has state ambitions.
QUOTE: "I think we take it one step at a time, starting with conference and then working our way up."
COACH: Barry Grayling (second season).
LAST YEAR: Eighth in conference.
KEY RETURNERS: Scott Ward, Sr.
KEY NEWCOMERS: Edwin Boyle, Fr.; William Johnston, Jr.; David Needham, Sr.; Adam Plazewski, Jr.
OUTLOOK: Ward is the lone returner and the Pirates' No. 1 runner. This rebuilding project needs more bodies.
QUOTE: "We're having a hard time getting kids to run cross country. We're just going to do the best with what we've got, which is hard with just five runners."
COACH: J.B. Baker (second season).
LAST YEAR: Sixth in conference.
KEY RETURNERS: Ben Carrol, Jr.; Mike Deleon, Jr.; Mike Eckert, So.; Kyle Sechrist, Sr.; Eric Slotter, Jr.; Dan Spector, Sr.
KEY NEWCOMERS: Adam Lawson, Jr.; Stephen Landreth, Fr.; Mike Kern, So.; Dean Stupar, Fr.
OUTLOOK: The Rams like their top seven runners, so the team is hoping for significant improvement. The team lacks a superstar in the top spot, but Slotter has earned the No. 1 job. No. 2 is up for grabs.
QUOTE: "We have seven good runners so I think we're going to be a lot better this year, definitely."
RIVER RIDGE ROYAL KNIGHTS
COACH: Dave Heywood (seventh season).
LAST YEAR: Third in SAC, second in district, state qualifiers.
KEY RETURNERS: Justin Coile, Sr.; Christian Fredrickson, So.; Adam Heywood, So.; Alan Klyap, Jr.; Brett Litak, Sr.; Bryce Sliz, So.
KEY NEWCOMERS: Jeff Pendlund, Jr.; Robert Perrigo, Jr.
OUTLOOK: Heywood thinks his top five has enough talent to return the Royal Knights to third in the conference race. Litak will run in the top spot, followed by junior varsity promotion Sliz, who is coming on strong.
QUOTE: "Our top five I'm very comfortable with. I think in the conference we'll be competitive. We should be able to at least finish where we finished last year."
WESLEY CHAPEL WILDCATS
COACH: Don Howard (second season).
LAST YEAR: Conference runner-up, state qualifiers.
KEY RETURNERS: Kevin Forstad, Sr.; Dhanlal Murally, So.; Ryan Stiftinger, So.; Taylor Tedesco, So.; Jonathan Wu, Jr.
KEY NEWCOMERS: Justin Erickson, Jr.; Jamie Parslow, Sr.; Cory Sams, Fr.; Micah Scanga, Sr.; Stephen Sikes, Sr.; Stratton Tedesco, Fr.
OUTLOOK: Graduation hit the Wildcats hard. Gone are SAC champion Kurt Able, David Forry and Jose Arroyo. But with 20 boys out this year Howard has plenty to rebuild with, and three new runners are seniors who took last year off. In the absence of stars, Wesley Chapel will use a seven-man pack strategy. Murally has won the No. 1 spot.
QUOTE: "Our strategy is to get better as a team. We don't have an elite runner so we have to approach things different, but it's causing better team work."
COACH: Michael Stanton (fifth season).
LAST YEAR: Fourth in conference.
KEY RETURNERS: Mike Chen, Sr.; Jose Espinoza, Sr.; James Khretschmar, Jr.; Jerrod Pinnegar, So.; Matt Regan, Sr.
KEY NEWCOMERS: Cory Miller, Jr.; Andy Patrais, Fr.; James Starnes, So.
OUTLOOK: The Bulldogs return five of last year's seven starters, led by No. 1 Espinoza. "Jose worked very hard in the mountains of Mexico this summer every day," Stanton said, "to be in shape to compete to be in the top five in conference and district."
QUOTE: "My top five will dictate how well my team does, but I'd like to finish in the top half of conference and make it to regions."
_ JAMAL THALJI, Times staff writer