The Ardrey Kell boys' and girls' cross country teams have a lot of reasons to think they can contend for a Southwestern 4A, West Regional and state championship this season.
Both teams return the core of squads that both finished in the top 10 at the 4A state meet and won the regional and SW4A titles.
The Knight boys, ranked No. 4 in the state by NCRunners.com, return five seniors at the top of their lineup, including Thomas McLean, Madison Souder, Parth Shah, Dan Whalen and David Stubbs.
Add sophomore standout Christian White and coach Brian Zelk has six runners who can break the 17-minute barrier on a consistent basis, giving him one of state's most talented and deep teams.
The Ardrey Kell girls may even better. They also come into the season ranked No. 4 by NCRunners.com, as defending SW4A and 4A West Regional champs.
The Knight girls, who finished fourth at the state meet last year, are led by senior Kaitlyn Kramer, the two-time defending SW4A champion. Kramer was second at both regionals and states to Watauga's Darby Middlebrook last year.
This year, the Knights hope to win both state team and individual titles, and Kramer will have a lot of help.
Sophomore Sydney Foreman, who had a great outdoor track season, carries a lot of momentum and talent into her second year. She is joined by the junior trio of Caitlin Bucksbaum and sisters Samantha and Sydney Teague.
Both Myers Park's boys' and girls' team also were in the top 10 preseason rankings, with the Mustang boys coming in at No. 8 and the girls at No. 5.
Senior Dakota Poindexter and junior Jack Matkins lead the Myers Park boys, while seniors Julia Hoover and Dana Larsen, junior Hannah Henderson and sophomores Meg Greene and Dana Larsen are atop the girls' team. Both Mustangs team will give Ardrey Kell stiff competition.
The Charlotte Latin and Charlotte Catholic girls' programs also are among the top in the state.
Latin must replace a lot, but sophomores Tricia Murphy and Katie McDowell appear up to the challenge of leading the four-time defending 3A NCISAA champions.
The Charlotte Catholic girls, who finished third at the 3A state meet last year, also look like contenders, with top runners senior Jamie Vezolles - reigning 3A West regional champ - and sophomore Margot Corcoran leading the way.